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Symphony No. 5 – “Hydriotaphia” (Alwyn)

(William Alwyn)

This symphony was composed by William Alwyn for the Norwish Triennial Festival in 1973 and is dedicated “to the immortal memory of Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682)”  Each movement in the symphony is written for and accompanied by a quotation from his Hydriotaphia: Urn Burial, or a Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk.

The piece lasts between 14 and 15 minutes and similarities to Schoenberg and Berg have been observed.  The movements are:

  • (i) Introduction (“Life is a pure flame, and we all live by an invisible sun within us”)
  • (ii) Slow Movement (“But these are sad and sepulchral pitchers, which have no joyful voices: silently expressing old mortality, the ruins of forgotten time”)
  • (iii) Scherzo (“Simplicity flies away, and iniquity comes at long strides upon us”)
  • (iv) Finale (“Man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave”)

London Symphony Orchestra recordings
Chandos CHAN 9196
Conductor – Richard Hickox

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra recordings
Naxos 8.557647
Conductor – David Lloyd-Jones