SSOPlayOn! Singapore Composers: From the Archives

TAN CHAN BOON Soir, Rêves, Fantaisie

22 Apr 2020 Wednesday 7:30PM

TAN CHAN BOON (b. 1965)
Soir, Rêves, Fantaisie from Symphony No. 2 “Genèse”

Soir, Rêves, Fantaisie is the second movement of Tan Chan Boon’s Symphony No. 2 “Genèse” in F-sharp minor. This is the second of five symphonies the composer has written to date. This symphony was inspired partly by the first book of the Bible, Genesis, hence its title. While it does not portray any specific episode or story in Genesis, it aims to convey a sense of the act and power of Creation – which became so profoundly salient to the composer during a hiking trip to the Swiss Alps. “I saw the infinite wave upon wave of mountain tops, intermingling with blue skies and white clouds. It was awesome.”

The emotions are conveyed in a series of motifs that are introduced and transformed throughout the symphony. The idea of Creation – of moving from darkness to light, from nothingness to being – is also reflected in the choice of keys.

The key structure of the symphony is: First movement: F-sharp minor – E major, Second movement: G minor – F minor, Third movement: F minor – F-sharp minor/F-sharp major – G major. The shifting of the tonal center in the first two movements reflects a form of “descent” into darkness. This is transformed in the finale with the progression of F-sharp minor to G major – ‘G’ for Genesis and God – which reflects an ascent to triumph and resolution.

Soir, Rêves, Fantaisie was written in about a week in September 1995, six years after the completion of the first movement. In compound ternary form (A B A B A C), this movement consists of three themes: Soir (Evening), Rêves (Dream) and Fantaisie (Fantasy).

Conceived as an Intermezzo between the gigantic first and third movements, it is much more introspective in mood. As evening falls and darkness descends, disturbing dreams engulf the consciousness. It is a depiction of personal struggle and anguish. However, light finally shines through the gloom with the statement of the Fantaisie theme, which is more positive in character.

The first Soir theme is executed by a solo horn amidst a contrapuntal backdrop. The cello introduces the Rêves theme and the mountain theme first heard in the first movement of the Symphony brings the music to the next Soir theme. This structure is then repeated and the last Soir theme leads to the first appearance of the bright Fantaisie theme also known as the ‘5-6-5’ motif in a major key played by the higher woodwinds. It has a blossoming effect which transfigures the atmosphere of the music, evoking the feeling of looking heavenwards.

Next, the violins play the mountain theme, which subsequently leads to a tutti climax – the only two bars where the trumpets, trombones and tuba enter in this movement. After the two bar climax, the ‘5-6-5’ motif turns into the ‘angel’ motif which is a three part imitative counterpoint from the woodwinds. This is repeated three times, with the order of instruments changing each time. The ‘5-6-5’ motif concludes the movement in a minor key compared to its initial appearance in major key. The double bass ties the music into the Finale.

(Notes by the composer, TAN Chan Boon)

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Lan Shui, conductor
Recorded live at the Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore, 7 July 2017