program notes by composition > T > Third Symphony, Op. 89

Third Symphony, Op. 89

James Barnes

The United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. commissioned James Barnes to write a major work for wind band. The conductor, Col. Alan Bonner, said he didn't care about style, length, difficulty or anything else. Barnes started working on Third Symphony at a very difficult time in his life, right after his baby daughter Natalie died. The composer said, "This symphony is the most emotionally draining work that I have ever composed. If it were to be given a nickname, I believe that 'Tragic' would be appropriate."

The work progresses from the deepest darkness of despair all the way to the brightness of fulfillment and joy. The Lento (first movement) is a work of much frustration, bitterness, despair and despondency - all feelings of the composer losing his daughter. The Scherzo (second movement) has a sarcasm and bittersweetness about it because it deals with the pomposity and conceit of certain people, busy and cheerful while complaining about minor problems compared to his loss of Natalie. Exquisite in its simplicity, the hauntingly beautiful third movement is a fantasia about what the composer felt the world would have been like if Natalie had lived. It is a farewell to her. The Finale (fourth movement) represents a rebirth of spirit, reconciliation for us all. The second theme of the last movement is based on an old Lutheran children's hymn called "I Am Jesus' Little Lamb".

Even now the Shepherds lamb?
And when my short life is ended.
By his angel host attended
He shall fold me to His breast,
There within His arms to rest.

This hymn was sung at Natalie's funeral. Three days after Barnes completed this symphony, his son Bill was born. The composer said "if the third movement is for Natalie, then the Finale is really for Bill, and our joy in being blessed with him after the tragic death of his sister."

James Barnes (b. 1949) is Division Director for Music Theory and Composition at the University of Kansas where he has taught for 35 years. His numerous compositions for concert bands and orchestras are extensively performed throughout the world. A former tubist, he has traveled extensively as guest composer, conductor and lecturer. He has twice received the American Bandmasters Association Ostwald Award for outstanding contemporary wind band music. Over the years, he has been commissioned to compose works for all five of the major military bands in Washington, DC.

Last updated on July 17, 2013 by Palatine Concert Band