Friday, 8 February 2008

Paul Lewis: A Miniature Symphony

In 1972 the composer Paul Lewis was asked to write the theme music for a Westward TV production called ‘Generation Three.’ This series was aimed at retired people. The programme producer insisted on a ‘bright’ neo-classical ‘allegro’ lasting no longer than a single minute. It was after writing this music that Lewis considered the possibility of adding a further three movements to make A Miniature Symphony – in other words a Symphony without the boring bits. He told me that that Roger Bannister’s great achievement of running the four-minute mile had made him think that a four minute symphony might be a good idea. This was the perfect opportunity.

Paul told me that his musical ethic is based making people happy. He does not often explore the darker sides of life. The musical language that he uses tends to be ‘traditional’ with a modern edge to it. It could be described as ‘suburban’ music. Lewis does not write ‘light’ pieces in the sense of Coronation Scot or Jumping Bean type of music. It is simply music that is attractive, well written, easy to understand and often fun. He does not like music that requires “a slide rule and compass” to come to terms with.

The Miniature Symphony has four movements – Allegro moderato, Andante, Minuet and a Gigue. It could be argued that this work is pastiche. It is not difficult to hear Haydn in these pages. Yet it is Haydn with a 21st century hat on.

The opening movement is probably the best music. An interesting flip-flop between major and minor with a good harp part. Impressive modulations for such a short piece! The second ‘movement’ is typical television music – big tune first heard on the woodwind then on sweeping strings. An amazing the amount of musical material in 76 seconds! The Minuet is quite classical in its way: a big plodding tune interrupted by a lighter woodwind phrase or two. The last movement is hardly a ‘gigue’ in the Bachian or Handelian sense of the word, yet it is a well wrought piece that is well scored and has good coda that for a moment moves beyond the gentle pastiche of this work.

Initially the ‘allegro’ was recorded by the National Orchestra of Belgium with the composer conducting. A little later the entire work was committed to a studio library disc. Interestingly Gavin Sutherland and the Royal Ballet Orchestra sort of spoil the original concept of the work- the playing time is now nearer five minutes that the original four!

An unsigned review of the CD in the Gramophone Magazine notes that Lewis’s pieces “is most notable for the finale–a galumphing horn tune‚ which might have been written by Ron Goodwin.”

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