Commissioned by the BBC. Premiere: 23 July 1982 Henry Wood Promenade Concert, Royal Albert Hall, London.
The work is cast in four distinct movements, though as in Wood's violin concerto there is only one pause in the music, between the second and third; even here the break is minimised in effect by a resumption of motivic arguments. In terms both of harmonic structure and of expressive development, the four movements seem to have been conceived as a single, unified progression. While melodic and harmonic details are both derived from an intensive working of a handful of intervallic figures, in a way that owes much to his earlier serialism, Wood’s handling is here free enough to encompass a large-scale sense of tonal structure as well. Ths same tritone that inflicted so much of the melodic writing in Wood's 'cello concerto also affects the symphony. The music struggles to escape from an uncertain E/E flat area which dominates the first movement, towards an eventual unequivocal A major in the work’s final pages. Emotionally, however, this trajectory more closely resembles that of the Third Quartet - except that where the quartet opens in frozen despair, the symphony begins in tumultuous violence.