Symphony No. 3: Liturgical


Symphony No. 3: Liturgical


for orchestra (1998)

  • Premiere: 28 April 1998  / Shattuck Auditorium, Waukesha, Wisconsin  / The Waukesha Symphony Orchestra / Alexander Platt
  • Instrumentation: 2(I,II=picc).2(II=corA).2(I=Ebcl,II=bcl).2- 
  • Duration: 27'

I. Profanation
II. Prayer
III. Paean

Program note

Daron's commentary on the symphony in 2010.

Although Hagen's compositions have always addressed the issue of "faith" in some form - not in the sense of any organized religion, but as a model for addressing the human condition - his major works became, during the course of the 1990's, increasingly devoted to the issue. The finale of his Symphony No. 1 (1988), which quoted Luther's Ein Feste Burg almost ironically, evolves into the finale of his Symphony No. 2 (1990), with its humanistic theme of Common Ground, written as the Berlin Wall was falling. The sprawling work for chorus and orchestra Joyful Music (1993) with it's frankly religious text of 'laudate Deum,' evolves into the Auden-esque existential questing of the characters in his opera Vera of Las Vegas (1996). The massive opera Bandanna (1998) with its clearly-delineated characters, each dwelling in either a state of moral absolutism or moral relativism, extends further and makes more acute the 'faith' argument.

Subtitled Liturgical, the Symphony No. 3 (1997) is cast in three movements which progress emotionally from fury to prayer, and then to praise. "While writing Bandanna I followed the characters' emotional and psychological journeys musically," Hagen writes, "so the symphony grew alongside the opera as the place where my journey could take place." Consequently, whereas the first two symphonies are extroverted, 'public' works; the third turns inward.

The first movement, Profanation, is marked furioso. An inveterate reviser, Hagen worked on this movement for more than four years before finalizing it as the first movement of Symphony No. 3. Four distinct works emerged from this revision process, including the second movement of the piano work Qualities of Light, the band work Night, Again, the orchestral work Built Up Dark, and crucial passages from the opera Bandanna. There are four musical ideas: (1.) a melodic wedge - a handful of notes which lead inward towards, or splay outward away from a central tone; (2.) a cluster - a simultaneous sounding of adjacent pitches; (3.) a harmonic constellation of four triads - B flat major, E major, G major, and D flat major, associated with one another by (4.) the interval of the tritone - three whole steps.

The second movement, Prayer, is a long-lined fugue. This particular fugue uses as its subject a tune based on several 12th century plain chants, recognized today variously as the songs Veni Emmanuel, Adeste Fidelis and O Come Emmanuel, among others. Hagen writes, "I chose the melody because it is my favorite hymn and, as such, has for me numerous important personal associations. I treated the tune fugally because the process involved in creating a fugue is to me the purest and most beautiful expression of a composer's art. When a composer offers a fugue, it is a testament of faith in tonal counterpoint's continuing (and timeless) vitality and viability as a vessel for the expression of emotion through exquisite craftsmanship."

The finale, Paean, is a song of praise. The work was premiered in 1998 with a movement that Hagen ultimately withdrew as unsatisfactory after the premiere. The new finale is based on a choral setting of the poem We're All Here, which serves as frontispiece to the 1843 James Fennimore Cooper novel Wyandotte; or, the Hutted Hill. Hagen wrote of the original setting, "I have chosen to imagine this poem as taking place at Thanksgiving, when families - despite the conflicts that divide them - unite." A poem about forgiveness and reunion, Hagen has treated it as a warm hymn beginning in the brass and gradually joyously fleshed-out by the entire orchestra.

Commissioned by the Waukesha Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its 50th Anniversary Season through special funding from The Milwaukee Foundation - Anthony & Andrea Bryant Family Fund, Symphony No. 3 was premiered by the Waukesha Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Music Director Alexander Platt on 28 April, 1998 at Shattuck Auditorium, Carroll College, Waukesha, Wisconsin. The final, revised version was premiered by the Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra 17 October 2010, again at Shattuck Auditorium under the direction of Alexander Platt.


The symphony opens with a movement titled Profanation, in which Hagen juxtaposes fragmented sounds and ideas.... The movement unfolds into a powerfulmosaic of sharp-edged, brilliant shards of sound. Although the piece culminates in a strong finale, via a third movement, titled  Paean, it is the second movement, titled Prayer, that listeners are likely to recall long after the concert is over. Prayer is an elegant, contemplative fugue based on the Christmas carol  O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Hagen displays his mastery of both orchestration and contrapuntal writing here. But, more importantly, he writes a deeply moving piece of music.

— Elaine Schmidt, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel4/19/98

A video montage accompanies the second movement.

Alexander Platt

Alexander Platt

Hagen discusses his Symphony No. 3.

Hagen dedicated the symphony to his brother Britt's memory.

Hagen dedicated the symphony to his brother Britt's memory.