Symphony in One Movement

Whoever says the symphony died with Mahler has missed some of the most interesting repertoire of the past century, if not the most interesting repertoire bearing the epithet “symphony.” Yet, to define exactly what constitutes a symphony in the years since Mahler left his 10th incomplete is almost as big a conundrum as what constitutes music itself. Well, you might say, you need an orchestra, but I have heard great works called symphonies scored for 100 electric guitars as well as just four pianos. I believe there’s even a symphony for one piano. Go figure. Others say it must be a hefty multi-movement work. But, what then to make of Leo Kraft’s very orchestral 1985 Symphony in One Movement, which is just that and lasts a mere 17 minutes. Well, Sibelius gave us a one-movement symphony back in the 1920s, although he debated whether or not to call his radically-structured composition that for over a year. Kraft, on the other hand, crystallizes the trappings of a conventional four-movement symphony—fast, scherzo, slow, fast—into an extremely concentrated single utterance using a repeated interlude between each played by different sections of the orchestra as glue. The result comes off as extremely well-Krafted (sorry, couldn’t resist), but if analyzing what he’s doing here architecturally is not the way you listen to music, you can still revel in the details that pop out like the fabulous dissonant homophony that he carefully orchestrates about two-thirds of the way through.


—FJO