Symphony No. 1(The Stages of Grief) is a five-movement work that explores the human reaction to loss and sorrow. Each movement depicts a different emotion from the famous stages of grief. Throughout the entire piece, the listener is reminded of the loss from the beginning of the symphony. This is portrayed through a loud and jarring augmented chord.
Movement 1. Denial The first movement begins with “regular life” in the form of a cheerful tune in 6/8. After all of the instruments join and get into the swing of things, suddenly, tragedy strikes. An augmented chord blasts through the scene and stops everyone in their tracks. The orchestra is left in shock, but instruments slowly trickle in with light motives, largely in pizzicato. Soon, the melody appears. The pause before each phrase creates a feeling of “this cannot be happening.” After some time, the “B” theme arrives with a slightly more steady rhythm as those grieving find their footing. In somewhat random places, the augmented chord shakes the piece and reminds the listener that the event really took place. Finally, the “A” theme returns with a full orchestra. This movement ends with stretto on the “A” theme and a soft extended chord.
Movement 2. Anger This movement begins with a quiet, moving, and aggressive ostinato in 7/8. The augmented chord is very present throughout from the beginning. After some shock, the melody begins. Since this is the Anger movement, there are several dissonant intervals and chords. Eventually, the 3/8 “B” theme of this five-part rondo begins in the lows. Meanwhile, the high strings play col legno as a reference to Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. The “B” theme transforms through tempos and ranges, but it is cut off by another “tragedy” chord. The “A” theme returns. After some exploration with that theme, the “C” theme appears in Lochrian mode and harmonic minor. This dissonance and power pushes the music to the final “A” theme. For this final section, the orchestra runs to the finish line with ornaments, meter changes, and more augmented chords.
Movement 3. Bargaining The movement starts sparsely with a very slow melody. One of the main features of this melody is the pausing after a phrase. This represents a question of “can I change this outcome?” that is a staple inquiry of this stage. The texture gradually changes as the melody moves about, and the question is finally answered. The augmented chord states a very firm “no,” and the orchestra takes a moment to regain its thought process after such a rejection. This time, the question is asked in a more intense manner with quick arpeggios in the high woodwinds and strings. However, the augmented chord reminds the listener that the answer does not change. As the intensity builds, the mood shifts to a potential ray of sunshine. This shift in tonality and very quick arpeggios creates one last glimmer of hope that the tragedy can be undone. However, the build in intensity to the last two augmented chords shuts down any hope of undoing the past.
Movement 4. Depression Depression begins with a slow bass drum ostinato followed by a dragging melody. The triplet figure calls back to a common motif in Baroque/Classical music that symbolizes distress. This gradually picks up both in texture and tempo as life gets busier, but the depression still has a hold on the griever. Another triple figure forms the new melody in 6/8 as the woodwinds take over. This passes through the orchestra before a large return of the original theme. Soon, the “B” theme appears in a thin texture with slow-moving chords. As this builds, another augmented chord approaches to remind the griever of the devastation that has occurred. After another run of the “A” theme in a thick texture, the piece dissipates into a sparse return to the original Denial theme.
Movement 5. Acceptance For the final movement, the orchestra revisits and slows down the “regular life” theme to portray the gradual transition into a regular routine after tragedy. As this transition occurs, the music replays themes from each stage to consider the growth and work it took to get to this point. This is also a call to the fact that grieving people typically go through these stages a few times before finally accepting the truth. As the listener revisits each of these stages, the music becomes more hopeful. Finally, the “regular life” theme returns to its original key and tempo. As the symphony comes to the end, it races with a combination of themes and one last augmented chord to remind the listener that loss changes people.