My Second Symphony was written more or less straight after the First, which had been commissioned by the BBC for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and first performed in St David's Hall Cardiff early in 1996. This time I wanted to write a 'classical' symphony, a little bit along the lines of Stravinsky's Symphony in C (an under-appreciated work of which I am very fond) and scored this for a smaller line-up than my First: a sort of 'late Mozart' orchestra, with the addition of a harp.
The work, perhaps unusually, is entirely abstract in conception, and is an example of 'pure' music, with no extraneous or picturesque references: music, happily, is one of the few areas where this is possible: 'pure contraption', in W H Auden's memorable phrase. Any representation in my piece will be of other music I have heard and have transformed through my own personal ways of thinking.
Movement 1 is a fast and driving sonata allegro, the opening idea, scored for strings with flute, suggested by the 'idee fixe' in the erlioz 'Symphonie Fantastique'. Movement 2 is a rather Beethovenian Scherzo with two gentler, related Trios featuring woodwind solos accompanied by harp. The short (slow) Movement 3 is mainly for strings alone, but with the addition later of little woodwind fanfares played independently of the strings, and the Finale is an energetic and good-natured Allegro: all first three movements end rather inconclusively, so the end of the last decisively compensates for this.
(Note © by Robert Keeley)