José Bowen, among many other things, is the Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University. His biography is extraordinary: as a scholar he has contributed immensely to the musicological field; as a jazz performer he has been all over the world. He has held a number of prestigious academic posts as well. Bowen is also a composer. This symphony, his first, was premiered at Stanford when Bowen was a student there, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1985. It’s scored for a large orchestra, including pairs or more of woodwinds, high and low brass, harp, piano and four percussionists. Bowen is ambivalent about program notes, so here is the story behind the piece, in his own words.
“I wrote this as a young man—22. I was an undergrad, so no computers, nothing. I still have the original score – in pencil. I subtitled it “romantic” although I can’t quite remember what possessed me, except that I see the themes of a young man. A romantic waltz that starts the third movement gradually gets pulled apart and despite some valiant efforts from our young romantic hero, finally gets destroyed (I guess she broke up with me!) The fourth movement starts back at the beginning with the frenzy of the modern world—represented here by some nice tone rows. Then a resurgence of the “love theme” (the half step and triad theme). There is some integration of the two themes as the movement continues, and I think I wanted the romantic love to win out. Note at the very end, each of these themes gets another brief tender encounter before being smothered by a “classical ending.” The piece is really a love story. There is first sight and a sweet and tender waltz. The couple dance around for a little while the modern world (technology, your mother-in-law, work, who knows) gradually intrudes. The themes conflict, but it seems to me that everyone has their own metaphor. Why not ask people to think about what most interferes with their relationships and then to see if they can hear this in the piece?
I think it is fair to say the piece is about love/idealism and the struggle it has with the real world. But ultimately the music says something about this conflict that is more important than who wins. It is about how love continues to reclaim its place in our lives despite the rest of the world.”
– Jose Bowen