Symphony No. 1 in 20 keys
Letter to the World

Composition Date: 2014
Duration: 00:30:30
Genre: Orchestra / Large Ensembles, Full Orchestra (20 or more)


Instrumentation Set Number 1:
  • 4 x Flute
  • 3 x Oboe
  • 1 x English horn
  • 3 x Clarinet
  • 1 x Bass clarinet
  • 4 x Bassoon
  • 1 x Saxophone
  • 8 x Horn
  • 4 x Trumpet
  • 3 x Trombone
  • 1 x Tuba
  • 1 x Timpani
  • 2 x Percussion
  • 2 x Harp
  • 1 x Celeste
  • 1 x Piano
  • 1 x Mixed chorus
  • 1 x Unspecified bowed strings
Instrumentation Set Number 2:
  • 1 x Mixed chorus
  • 1 x Full orchestra
Programme Note:
Symphony No. 1 in 20 keys ("Letter to the World") is a five-movement, polytonal symphony for large orchestra which is the first symphony to cast the outer movements as scherzi. All movements use melodies which are derived from transcribed non-western or folkloric melodies.
The second movement is a "conventional" sonata form and the third movement is a series of variations on an "original" melody suggested by the "fado" song-form of Portugal.
The symphony as a whole uses "borrowed" melodies from (or melodies suggested by) the following sources:

Children's Songs from Spain / Karen James & Isabelita Alonso / Folkways Records (LP) ["Nana"]
Renaissance Lute Music - Lorenzino del Liuto / Naxos Recordings (CD) ["Galliarda"]
Chansons de Breton - Dalc'h Sonj, sung by Mona Kerys / Marianne Mélodie (CD)
Afghanistan: Female Musicians of Herat - Bibi gol arus, sung by Zainab Herawi / Musical Heritage (CD)
Folk Voices: Finnish Folk Song Through the Ages / based on performances by Tellu and Pia Rask / Ondine (CD)
Rough Guide to Scottish Music, Second Edition - Cailleach "An Airgid" performed by Cliar / World Music Network (CD)
"OOLEETSAYA" from 65 Russian Folk Songs (ed. Prokunin, Vasily) (book published in 1898)

The fourth movement is a chorale in five sections for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass-baritone which are settings of poems by Emily Dickinson.

Symphony No. 1 in 20 keys is a polytonal symphony. Unlike chamber music where it is easier for one instrument to stay in a single key for a sustained period,
an orchestra provides an opportunity to constantly change timbres. For this reason, keys are not assigned to instruments except for short periods of time.
Each movement has a foundation key, with three keys "placed" on top.
Movement I is in the keys of C minor, E minor, G minor, B minor. Movement II - Eb major, G major, Bb major, D major. Movement III - Gb minor (enharmonically reinterpreted as F# minor), Bb minor, Db minor (enharmonically reinterpreted as C# minor), F minor. Movement IV is only in one key at a time, moving from A major, C# minor, E major, G# minor, and ending in A major.

Movement V is in four keys simultaneously again: Db major, F major, Ab major, C major. Each movement has a number of measures based on a secret number system, with sections and subsections often being divisions of the number 18.

The first and last movements are ABA structures. This, to my knowledge, is the first symphony where ther first and last movements are cast as scherzi. Movements 2, 3, and 4 constitute an A B A structure, and movements 1 and 5 are analogous to an A and A1 section and movements 2, 3, and 4 are analagous to a large B section.

Movement I opens with a pointilistic polytonal canon based on an Afghan womens' wedding song (and a rather sarcastic one, at that) from measures 1-18. Measures 19-23 constitute a transition. Measures 24-42 introduce the melody of a Spanish children's song, "Nana". Measures 43-55 develop a Russian melody "Ooleetsaya". Measures 56-74 recapitulate the "Nana" melody, measures 75-78 transition back to a measures 79-96 which is a modified mirror-image of the opening section.
Movement II starts with the "Galliarda" theme by Lorenzino del Liuto. Measure 19 begins a transition to measure 40 which is a "false second group" based on Finnish folk themes. The real "second group" begins at measure 55. Measure 90 starts the development section (m. 113 begins a Brahms pastiche; m. 126 is a canon amongst the winds; m. 131 a short fugetta ; m. 152 an "ostinato machine"). An inverted recapitulation begins at measure 161, with the original melodies highly disguised. The coda starts at bar 223.
Movement III is a series of 11-bar genre variations on an "original" melody suggested by Portuguese "fado" melodies. Each variation is given a separate title, e.g. Faburden, Canto Carnascialescho, Freistimmigkeit, Menuet, Gigue, Sarabande, Quodlibet, and finally an Adagio reminiscent of Bruckner.
Movement IV contains straight-forward settings of poems by Emily Dickinson (which recall Brahms lieder).
Movement V is a simple binary structure using a Scottish folk theme and the Russian melody which appears in the first movement (the latter is accompanied by the Rennaissance song by Ockeghem which provides the title for the movement).

Clarinet in Bb sounds a major second lower than written. Bass clarinet sounds a major ninth lower than written.
English Horn sounds a perfect fifth lower than written. Alto sax in Eb sounds a major sixth lower than written.
French Horn sounds a major fifth lower than written. Harp harmonics sound one octave above written notes.
Double bass sounds one octave lower than written (including harmonics). Pitched percussion instruments have normal octave transpositions, where applicable.
Matthew Davidson, n ovember, 2014


  • Call Number:
  • MI 1100 D252sy1
  • Genre:
  • Orchestra / Large Ensembles, Full Orchestra (20 or more)
  • Date of Acquisition:
  • December 12, 2014
  • Type:
  • Print-music, Published by CMC
  • Physical Description:
  • 1 score (152 p.) ;
    152 Pages
    Height: 36 cm
    Width: 28 cm
  • Language Information
  • Language of libretto: English
  • Additional Information:
  • Pour orchestre et choeur mixte (4ème mouvement seulement).
    En 5 mouvements : I. Nana (Scherzo I) -- II. Galliarda -- III. Fado -- IV. 4. Chorale -- V. Ma Bouche Rit (Scherzo II).
    Le quatrième mouvement est un choral en cinq sections pour soprano, mezzo, ténor et basse, sur des poèmes d'Émily Dickinson.
    La réduction pour piano du 4e mouvement peut être fournie uniquement à la location de l’œuvre.
    Oeuvre déposée au CMC Québec.

    For orchestra and mixte choir (4th movement only).
    The fourth movement is a chorale in five sections for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass-baritone on poems by Emily Dickinson.
    The piano reduction of the 4th movement is available on rental only.

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