About this Recording
8.223876 - BUCKLEY: Organ Concerto / Symphony No. 1

John Buckley (b. 1951)
Concerto for Organ and Orchestra (1992) • Symphony No.1 (1988)

Born in Templeglantine, Co. Limerick, in 1951, John Buckley studied the flute with Doris Keogh and composition with James Wilson at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. His subsequent composition studies were in Cardiff with the Welsh composer Alun Hoddinott. Following a number of years as a teacher he became a full-time composer in 1982 and has since written a diverse range of work, from music for solo instruments to compositions for full orchestra. He has fulfilled numerous commissions including Organ Concerto for the National Concert Hall, Dublin, Rivers of Paradise for the official opening of the University of Limerick Concert Hall, the chamber opera The Words upon the Window Pane for Opera Theatre Company and Maynooth Te Deum (for the bicentenary of Maynooth College), which was first performed in the National Concert Hall in November 1995.

John Buckley's music has been performed and broadcast in more than forty countries worldwide. His compositions have represented Ireland on five occasions at the International Rostrum of Composers and at three ISCM festivals. His score A Thin Halo of Blue was Radio Teleffs Éireann's entry for the 1990 Prix Italia. Numerous broadcasts throughout the world have resulted from this. He has won all the major Irish composition awards including the Varming Prize (1977), the Macaulay Fellowship (1978), the Arts Council's Composers' Bursary (1982) and the Toonder Award (1991). In 1984 he was elected a member of Aosdana, Ireland's state-sponsored academy of creative artists.

The Concerto for Organ and Orchestra was commissioned jointly by the National Concert

Hall Dublin, Radio Telefíis Éireann and the Irish Arts Council for the new Concert Hall organ built by Kenneth Jones and inaugurated in September 1991. The work, which is dedicated to Hugh McGinley, was first performed on 26th June 1992, with Peter Sweeney as organist and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland conducted by Robert Houlihan. It is scored for three flutes (doubling piccolo), three oboes, three clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, tuba, two sets of timpani, a wide range of percussion and strings.

In composing the work one of my principal concerns was to maintain a balance between the orchestra and organ, which, in a sense, is like a second orchestra. Frequently, the development of the musical argument takes the form of a dialogue, with organ and orchestra in counterbalance to each other. Throughout the work elaborate organ solos have analogous passages in the orchestra: elsewhere organ and orchestra blend and reinforce each other's material. The orchestral writing is often bravura in character making the work a concerto for orchestra as much as for organ.

The concerto is in a single movement, which falls broadly into three sections: Toccata I, Adagio, Toccata 2. A vigorous Toccata for organ follows the opening orchestral flurry. In this section I have attempted to create a feeling of energy and forward momentum impelled by a strong sense of rhythmic vitality and explosive orchestral gestures. Characteristic of this section are the frequent changes of metre and orchestral textures. A transition passage for organ pedals and two sets of timpani leads to the central Adagio section. This is for the most part slow and lyrical in disposition, though it also incorporates dramatic and vigorous writing reminiscent of the opening Toccata. The development is based on two ideas: the ascending string clusters which immediately follow the transition, and the organ theme to which they give way. A short scherzo-like passage highlighting trios of flutes, clarinets, oboes and bassoons in turn, leads to a varied recapitulation of the opening Toccata. A short snappy coda brings the work to its conclusion.

The first sketches for Symphony No.1 date from 1983 but the main work on the piece was done during 1987 and the early part of 1988. The first performance was given in June 1988 in the National Concert Hall, Dublin by the Radio Telefís Éireann Symphony Orchestra (now the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland) conducted by Albert Rosen. The piece is in two movements, each of which falls into two large-scale sections, giving the impression of a four-movement work. These sections correspond loosely to the form of the classical and romantic symphony.

1st. movement:
Slow introduction - fast

Slow and lyrical
2nd. Movement:

Introduction - scherzo 1 - trio - scherzo 2


The main musical material of the first movement is a rapid scale passage first heard on the strings. In conjunction with vigorous brass fanfares and woodwind and percussion interjections, this material is expanded and developed by a variety of means. The slow second section concentrates on a lyrical melodic growth and transformation of the earlier material. The first scherzo of the second movement is built around short woodwind figures dramatically interrupted by brass and strings. The tranquil trio which features clarinet, oboe and flute melodies lightly accompanied by strings and harp is followed by the lively rhythmically impelled second scherzo. The final section of the work initially juxtaposes contrapuntal woodwind and strings with chordal writing for the brass. The rapid swirling scales of the first scherzo return to combine with the brass fanfares and metallic percussion to bring the work to an energetic and decisive conclusion. While the Symphony is entirely concerned with musical materials and processes it draws much of its inspiration and character from the forces and patterns of natural phenomena and seasonal change; Winter-Spring in the first movement and Summer-Autumn in the second.

The Symphony is dedicated to James Wilson, who was my composition teacher from 1971 to 1976.

John Buckley

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