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Symphony No. 1


Full orchestra version: - - 2perc - pno - str

Duration: 33'

“Wachner has a pronounced rhythmic sensibility and puts it to good use in movements that have shifting meters and a dynamic thrust to them. At some point you occasionally detect a Bernstein influence (the Mass sometimes comes to mind as a precursor), other times some of the voicings and counterpoints of later Reich also seem to be launching points, still other moments there is a jazziness to it all. But then there are the tender and mysterium aspects, too. None of it sounds derivative. It does seem an integral part of a developed grand tradition of sacred music, with Wachner taking his place in a potential pantheon.”

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review


“...Lamentations showed Belshazzar’s Feast squaring off against “Symphony of Psalms,” and proved a veritable bonanza of orchestrational, dramatic, choral invention, little of it predictable.”

The Boston Globe


“…his comprehension of massive orchestration shine through in a vast spectrum of sound. Wachner's work, though based in the current ideas of mixing styles, tonality and rhythmic structures, is very much a style all his own.”

Edge Media Netword

“…his comprehension of massive orchestration shine through in a vast spectrum of sound. Wachner's work, though based in the current ideas of mixing styles, tonality and rhythmic structures, is very much a style all his own.” -Edge Media Netword“Clearly, one of the musical inspirations behind the symphony was Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, but Wachner’s work is far less cool and austere. It is powerfully, even violently, rhythmic over many pages....The Incantations movement for orchestra strives to cast spells with its mysterious, often static quality, and its hypnotic mottos for timpani, its oriental colors, its suggestion of a wild sacrificial dance. The Exile section is almost brutal in its depiction of God’s wrath. The Prayer and Remembrance movements offer some balm, albeit couched in odd, unstable harmonies.”

The Boston Globe


On Wachner’s First Symphony

Dr. Wesley J. Wildman

Professor of Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics

Boston University School of Theology


In some cases, theology in musical contexts can only be discerned and evaluated with the aid of insight into the composer’s intention for the work.  In other cases, the theological force of a musical work extends no further than the biblical, liturgical, or other texts upon which it draws.  In yet other cases, the theological point trivializes its texts by hijacking them without regard to their own internal integrity.  Wachner’s Symphony No. 1: Incantations and Lamentations, by contrast, is one of these rare musical creations that blends text and music to make a self-standing and profound theological point that faithfully discloses the possibilities of the texts themselves.   Wachner’s symphony is, therefore, a theological achievement as much as it is a musical one.


Incantations and Lamentations weaves together the classic themes of God, suffering, alienation, and faith to create a poignant interpretation of the Babylonian Exile that expresses with uncanny fidelity the agonizing aspect of human life.  Within this framework, along with all the subtle overtones and undertones, Wachner’s main theological point is this:  Comfort in the face of suffering and loss is the hard won fruit of a faith in God that does not shrink from welding together praise and accusation, hope and brokenness.  There is much to be said for this insight, which is as much psychological as theological in character.  Indeed, in the phenomenology of developing faith, the ordinarily fierce distinction between praise of God and accusation of God loses focus long before the bliss of irrefragable comfort becomes faith’s constant companion.  The superficial opposition between worship and indictment of God is comforting, and their breath taking merger shocking, only to faith’s neophyte.  Wachner works hard to illumine for the careful listener the deeper reaches of the psychology of faith, and he does not hesitate to draw out and leave unresolved the wonderful and disturbing consequences for our theological understanding of God.


All this is accomplished in a number of ways, from the choice of texts to the use of rhythmic patterns that intimate conceptual continuity between thematically and conceptually disparate material.  I will comment on two of Wachner’s methods that are more nearly related to theological content.


First, the large-scale organization of the work is a deliberate juxtaposition of praise (the second and fourth movements) with reflective exploration of despair and grief, tinged with self-mortification, resentful accusation, and hope (the first, third, and fifth movements).  This structure legitimates these diverse forms of response to suffering and loss, presses them tightly together, and serves as the context within which the blurring of the distinction between them and the resulting comfort of faith can be portrayed.


Second, all of the thematic material of the work falls outward as willow branches from the central trunk of the third movement.  Accordingly, attention is drawn to that middle movement as the dynamic heart of the work.  There we see a series of transitions:  from grief (“By the waters of Babylon. . .”), to vengeance (“happy the one who pays you back. . .”), to almost vicious worship (“Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered...”), to despairing accusation (“O God, why have you utterly cast us off?”).  The effortless quality of the musical transitions is crucial to the success of this portrayal of the psychology of grieving faith, for it makes the movement from one state to the next credible.  Only the last phase, that of despairing accusation, is in the mode of prayer.  It must be thus, for only when everyone else has been addressed in fits of displaced rage and bewilderment can the faithful finally turn to their greatest nemesis and their greatest love to speak their secret resentment with heart-breaking openness.  And then it is that praise is discovered in the midst of tear-pressed accusation, with “O God, why is your wrath so hot? hot? hot?” (fortissimo), yielding to a blistering “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.”  The pianissimo “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord” that follows immediately in the fourth movement’s “Remembrance” echoes the second movement’s “Prayer” nearly exactly, but is infinitely more profound as a result of the intervening “Exile” of the third movement.


Wachner is right:  the bliss of praise and the bliss of blazing, accusatory lament are indistinguishable.  This is the path that faith must tread if the peace that passes all understanding is to be realized.  Incantations and Lamentations  make this point with clear-headed energy.  It is a disturbing, convicting, wonderful synthesis of theological insight and musical creativity.

Symphony No 1: Incantations and Lamentations


I. Incantations (Orchestral)


II. Prayer


Psalm 146   Lauda, anima mea


Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord, O my soul! *

I will praise the Lord as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.



III. Exile


Psalm 137   Super flumina


1 By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, *

  when we remembered you, O Zion.


2 As for our harps, we hung them up *

  on the trees in the midst of that land.


3 For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,

  “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”


7 Remember the day of Jerusalem, O Lord,

against the people of Edom, *

  who said, “Down with it! down with it! Even to the ground!”


8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, *

  happy the one who pays you back for what you have done to us!


9 Happy shall he be who takes your little ones, *

  and dashes them against the rock!


Psalm 68   Exsurgat Deus


1 Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; *

  let those who hate him flee before him.


2 Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; *

  as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at

  the presence of God.


Psalm 74   Ut quid, Deus?


1      O God, why have you utterly cast us off? *

        why is your wrath so hot…. 





IV. Remembrance


Psalm 146   Lauda, anima mea


Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord, O my soul! *

I will praise the Lord as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.



V. Reconciliation


Psalm 121   Levavi oculos


1 I lift up my eyes to the hills; *

  from where is my help to come?


2 My help comes from the Lord, *

  the maker of heaven and earth.


3 He will not let your foot be moved *

  and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.


4 Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *

  shall neither slumber nor sleep;


5 The Lord himself watches over you; *

  the Lord is your shade at your right hand,


6 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *

  nor the moon by night.


7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; *

  it is he who shall keep you safe.


8 The Lord shall watch over your going out and

your coming in, * 

from this time forth for evermore.

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