1. Newstead Abby
3. Il Palazzo Savioli
Alan Bush became interested in Byron when, in 1955, he read through the whole of the works of Dionysos Solomos (1798-1857), while working in Weimar on the production of his second opera, 'Men of Blackmoor'. He was attracted to Byron because of his efforts on behalf of the working-class of his time, his belief in human freedom and his active support of the Greek people in their war of independence against the Turks during the 1920s.
The Byron Symphony was the result of a commission from the Radio of the German Democratic Republic for an orchestral work of the composer's choice. It received its first performance in Leipzig in March 1962, and its first performance in Great Britain in June of the same year, with Leslie Head conducting the Kensington Symphony Orchestra.
The Symphony is in four movements, but they are preceded by an Introduction. This foreshadows in an important form three important themes, the principal subject, the theme of Byron's dream of idyllic love on the solo violin, and his feelings of passion and foreboding that it will lead to no happy outcome. Sounding against one another in inconclusive phrases, the introduction leads to the opening of the first movement.
Movement 1: It is in a kind of sonata form, and has the title 'Newstead Abby', the family seat where Byron took up residence at the age of ten, when he succeeded to the title, until he left England finally in 1816. This movement expressed the youthful Byron's immense energy and love of life, his boisterous humour, and also his fiercely critical attitude towards the hypocrisy of the social conventions of his day. In 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage', Canto Three, written in 1816, he wrote as follows:
"I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
I have not flatter'd its rank breath, nor bow'd
To its idolatries a patient knee,
Nor coin'd my cheek to smile, nor cried aloud
In worship of an echo;..."
The movement takes the form of a principal subject, and several themes, followed by a coda, which takes the form of a concentrated recapitulation of the principal subject.
Movement 2: A theme and variations, is called 'Westminster'. As a young man, Byron took his place in the House of Lords, and not merely as a matter of form, since he delivered an impassioned speech there, defending the Nottinghamshire weavers against the proposed death penalty for frame-breaking - they believed that the introduction of the spinning-jennies, newly invented, would make them all redundant. An introduction leads to the theme; two variations follow, the second being interrupted by Byron's voice, which silences the opposition; his oration, the third variation, continues to the end of the movement, interrupted at times by the indignant supporters of the Bill. The key is F minor, D minor, C sharp minor and F minor, sometimes Dorian with Phrygian undertones.
Movement 3: This portrays Byron in love with the Contessa Teresa Guiccioli. This love affair lasted from 1819 till Byron's departure for Greece in 1823. In the garden of her residence, 'Il Palazzo Savioli', he wrote the following on the title page of one of her books:
"You will not understand these English words. But you will recognise the handwriting of him who passionately loves you, and you will divine that, over a book which was yours, he could think only of love".
The Introduction includes references to the passion theme and the idyllic love of the first movement. The principal subject is formed partly from these two themes. A bridge passage leads to the middle section of a more animated character. In the middle of this section is a fugato episode suggesting the conspiratorial struggle for Italian freedom, which Byron actively supported. A contrasted repeal of the introduction leads to the shortened recapitulation of the principal subject.
Movement 4: This final movement is, entitled 'Missolonghi', the name of the Greek port where Byron died in 1824, as a result of illness at the early age of 36. In 1823, Byron had embarked for Greece in order to take part in the struggle of the Greek people against the Turks. Part of this movement is the setting of stanzas from the 'Ode on the Death of Lord Byron', written by the Greek poet, Dionysos Solomos in 1832. It is set for mixed chorus with baritone solo. The first lines of the poem in an English translation by Nancy Bush read:
"Freedom, draw near in silence.
Pause for a moment, pause and sheathe your sword.
Weep for one who long has served you,
Weep for Byron, who is dead.
As they bear him, there shall follow
Men of courage like his own.
Noble hearts shall beat above him.
Praise him, honour his deathless name."
The introduction of this fourth movement presents some of the themes of the first movement, when it is interrupted by the faraway sounds of Greek trumpets, summoning to war. The turbulent subjects of the first movement are combined with a Greek battle song, developed from the melody of a Greek folk-dance. The chorus rises and sings a lamenting elegiac hymn. The climax of struggle is reached and at this point Byron falls mortally ill and dies. A recapitulation of the elegiac him brings the Symphony to an end.