I located this discussion of Ruth Gipps’ Symphony No. 3 in the now defunct Musical Events magazine for March 1966. I quote it without comment. Ruth Gipps Symphony No.3 can currently be heard on YouTube.
‘Early last year a sardonic friend of mine, to whom I had sent a sort of progress report, ‘phoned me with the question “Do I gather from your reference to a development section that yours is a symphonic symphony?”
Well, yes, that was the intention.
The medium used is a large but perfectly normal symphony orchestra consisting of human beings who make music because they want to. The vital importance of the musicians’ wish to play a piece of music cannot be overstressed; they cannot give full expression to a work with which they are not in sympathy. It is a fundamental of orchestral craftsmanship that all individual parts should be musically interesting and also grateful for the particular instruments to play.
Beyond that, a general idea of dimensions of the work, one’s intentions with regard to a piece of absolute music are unlikely to be specific. If it is real music the composer is a setter-down of ideas and their inevitable development; not a “creator”.
My 3rd Symphony is in four movements, and runs about 35 minutes. It has tonality rather than key. In the first movement, for instance, there is a constant pull between a mode on C sharp and a more angular scale based on D. This argument provides much of the texture of a normal sonata form movement whose actual subjects are melodic.
The second movement is a Theme and Variations, and the third a scherzo in 7/8 with an ostinato on harp and glockenspiel. This leads without a break into the finale; and here for once I can remember the thought processes (if they can be so called) which resulted in a particular structure. At the time I was so over-worked professionally that the symphony had to be written in trains, in bed, and in odd moments when some student was blessedly late or absent. The introduction to the finale is a rather vague affair in 3/4 with odd bars of 5/4; this changes to a cheerful 4/4 Allegro. As I worked ahead on this during a gap between pupils, a new theme appeared on the violins accompanied by clucking woodwind. At this point the missing student arrived; I concealed my manuscript and unwillingly returned to duty…
The next day, in a train, I regarded the violin theme and realised that it wanted an answer a fourth lower. Could I have written a fugue subject by accident? – I had had no thought of writing a fugue. Scrutiny revealed that the subject fitted in stretto at the 5th, or, if the second voice were inverted, at the 7th. This would have been quite clever of me, if I had done it on purpose!
The following night in bed I had another thought. Yes, the fugue subject in 4/4 fitted without the alteration of a single note against the introduction [of the finale] tune in 3/4 and 5/4. In fact the whole form of the movement was implicit in these two ideas, which were inevitably related although I had no comprehension of it when writing them down.
The finale, then, is a big fugue. The structure should be pretty clear even at a first hearing; but of course what really matters is that orchestra and the audience should respond to the music emotionally.’
Ruth Gipps: Musical Events March 1966.
It is unfortunate that virtually nothing of Ruth Gipps is currently available on CD. Only five other works out of a considerable catalogue has made it onto disc. We are lucky to have the present Symphony No. 3 on YouTube.