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Keith Gates: Music

Soliloquy from Symphony No. 2

Soliloquy is also available in the collections:
Songs and Arias for Low Voice
Songs and Arias for High Voice

The Symphony No. 2 is dedicated to the memory of Sylvia Kushner. She was a dear friend and mentor, constantly encouraging me in my music career and was responsible for securing the commission of the opera Tom Sawyer for the Governor’s Program for Gifted Children in 1984. She was a wonderful bassoonist. Both she and her husband Bill (a skillful clarinetist) inspired me as a young teenager to compose music for their respective instruments. I remember one holiday season writing A Thanksgiving Prayer for bassoon and clarinet and bringing it by their home for them to play. They always embraced me warmly as an aspiring musician and gave me good critical advice on many aspects of music and composition. Her memory will always be dear to me, and this Symphony is a tribute to her friendship and musical artistry.

When I try to think of the influences that inspired my Second Symphony, one work comes to the foreground; it is Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony in b minor. After hearing a live performance by the Lake Charles Symphony a few seasons ago, I thought to myself, “I am so eager to write another symphony that sustains the same mood as this great b minor symphony of Schubert.” The lyrical and tragic strains of the first movement of the Unfinished Symphony were the impetus that propelled the mood and character of my first movement. Even the key is the same, b minor; a dark key of shadows and inevitability. The clarinet melody that begins the movement had been in my head for almost a year. I tried writing it for piano, but that didn’t seem right. I tried to use it in a chamber work, but again, that seem to restrict the scope of the melody too much. Finally, when Bill Kushner commissioned the Symphony, I decided to try it again, and this time it worked out perfectly. The wide range was well suited for the full orchestra. The movement is in sonata-allegro form. The principal theme is stated in the clarinet, the secondary theme is performed by a solo French horn and the development section begins with a timpani solo.

The second movement is the heart of the work. It begins with an extended bassoon solo over pizzicato strings in tribute to Sylvia. The form of the movement is a large five-part rondo with Sylvia’s bassoon music coming back three times. During one of the interludes between the recurring sections there is a clarinet and bassoon duet which I wrote thinking about my two dear friends and the love they shared.

The third movement practically wrote itself. The music just kept coming. Even after I would get into bed at night, I kept hearing more and more of this Scherzo so that I’d have to get up and write it down. The principal theme is based on the clarinet melody of first movement. There is a trio with a lilting waltz for solo flute and the fast and militant sounding Scherzo returns once again.

When I was first considering the last movement, I was planning on setting two prayers from the Jewish prayer book. I showed the texts of the prayers to Bill to get his opinion. He then suggested that I use a poetic passage from his son Tony Kushner’s play, Angels in America. The idea really pleased me and I was honored to be able to set to music such beautiful and moving words from this Pulitzer Prize-winning play, But not only that, I thought it was so fitting that Sylvia’s son’s poetry be the very words that conclude this tribute to such a fine musician, friend, wife and mother.

Program Notes by Keith Gates