For the month of September, the Classics a Day team chose a controversial theme. There is a small subset of symphonic works within the classical repertoire that appear misnamed. Most composers choose their titles carefully. But when the title runs counter to expectations, disagreements arise.
What does the title “symphony” mean? Can a composition be a symphony in everything but name? Or could a work titled “symphony” be a different type of composition in disguise?
For this month’s challenge, I included a poll with each post to let the readers decide. Here are the posts — and the poll results — for the first week of #ClassicsaDay #SymYesNo (Symphony? Yes/No).
09/01/21 Anton Webern: Symphony Op. 21
Webern labeled this piece a symphony, and he used classical forms in its construction. But it’s only for a small number of instruments and is just 10 minutes in length. So is this work “symphonic” enough to deserve the title. Is it a symphony?
Poll results: Yes 66.7% / No 33.3%
09/02/21 Claude Debussy: La Mer
Debussy named this work “Three Symphonic Sketches.” He did so to avoid having it considered a symphony by audiences and critics. But is it actually a symphony in form and fact?
Poll results: Yes 25% / No 75%
09/03/21 Ethel Smyth – Serenade in D
Thanks to the conductor Talia Ilan for this example! Smyth may have titled this work “serenade” to avoid the harsh gender-based criticism a symphony would be sure to attract. So is this four-movement work actually a symphony in disguise?
Poll results: Yes 100% / No 0%