Daniel Jones: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 11
Daniel Jones (1912-1993) composed in a wide range of genres, yet the cornerstone of his prolific output is the Symphony, memorably described by him as ‘a dramatic structure with an emotive intention’. He tackled the form afresh with each of his 13 examples, of which the first 12 are based on a different note of the chromatic scale.
Jones’s Second Symphony was written between March and July 1950 and first broadcast in the Welsh region by an augmented BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra under the composer on 13 September 1951. The Second Symphony places great emphasis on intricate rhythms and combines both lyrical and dance elements. There is a focus on orchestral colour, epitomised by the prominent role given to the celesta in the first, third and fourth movements. Expansive, big-boned and at times uncharacteristically discursive, it is Jones’ last symphony conceived on a large canvas: from now on his symphonic works would be increasingly concise and cogent, rejecting any orchestral colour extraneous to the musical argument.
Daniel Jones’s Eleventh Symphony in E flat was completed on 7 December 1983 and premiered by the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra under Sir Charles Groves on 20 October 1984 in the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea. Commissioned by the Swansea Festival, it is dedicated to the memory of George Froom Tyler, chairman of the festival committee, who had died in 1983 and was a friend of the composer.
Though each of his thirteen symphonies is a unique and highly personal statement, the cycle as a whole maintains an unwavering consistency of quality and vision. Daniel Jones demonstrates a steadfast integrity throughout, never bowing to the latest trends. His priority is always to communicate directly with the listener. Paul Conway, 2017
…His symphonic music reflects that fierce intellectual power, together with a strong sense of architecture and dramatic contrast. All articles about Jones's music will tell you that they are each based on a different note of the chromatic scale – i.e. all twelve white and black notes' as it were throughout the octave. That doesn't mean to say that they are rooted in a particular key, simply that they have a tonal centre, added to which, that tonal centre shifts frequently during the work. However, it's hard to find out what those central notes are for each of the symphonies. All I can tell you, from listening rather closely, is that of these two works, the one, No 2, centres around A natural, while No 11 seems to have E flat as its centre of gravity.
In a Gramaphone Bryden Thomson said of Daniel Jones; He knows what he wants, he knows what he’s writing and he knows when it isn’t right. You can’t say that about a lot of composers these days.’
Precisely when Jones first conceived the idea of composing a cycle of 12 symphonies each based on a different note of the chromatic scale as tonal centre in unclear but it was probably not during the writing of the First (1944-47), originally designated ‘in E minor’. At 50 minutes long, it is Jones’s largest symphony, in which the fledgling symphonist revealed his mastery and understanding of the medium for the first time. His view of the symphony evolved radically, with goal-driven forms and growing concision – neither Nos 10 (1981-82) nor 11 (1983) exceed 20 minutes.
There are few obvious resonances in the musical language, though I have always thought the structures of the First and 43 minute-long Second (1950, centred around A, neither major or minor) nodded towards Russian models. With its increased use of percussion, No 2 is brighter in tone that its predecessor, with a recurring allusion to Vaughan Williams’s F minor Symphony in the finale. Both the Tenth and Eleventh Symphonies follow dramatic-tragic courses, the latter a memorial to his friend George Froom Tyler, erstwhile chairman of the Swansea Festival.
The reception of Jones’s music has usually been respectful rather than enthusiastic, even in these august pages so let me raise the bar somewhat. These are strong and important works that repay familiarity. The performances by the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra and Thomson are finely realised, alive to their rhythmic intricacies and growing orchestrational confidence. Lyrita’s remastering provides depth and clarity to the studio-bound sound. As with the symphonies of Havergal Brian, a cycle of which is also near completion, what is needed next is for these symphonies to be taken up in both concert hall and studio.
We were already indebted to the enterprising Lyrita label for several recordings of music by Daniel Jones. The new release very usefully fills some gaps with unique recordings of both works. Better still, further releases – like these from BBC recordings – are in preparation for later in the year and 2018: Symphonies Nos. 3, 5 and 12 (BBC Welsh Orchestra/Bryden Thomson) and 13. My own benchmark for twentieth-century music is well met by these and Jones’ other symphonies: accessible works but without any suggestion of sounding facile. Jones described the symphony as ‘a dramatic structure with an emotive intention’. If I find more of the latter than the former here, that's no bad thing on this occasion. Paul Conway’s valuable programme notes – authoritative and informative – complete a most recommendable release.
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