malcolm lipkin, composer

Sinfonia di Roma (Symphony No.1)

First performed at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool on 18 January 1966 Sir Charles Groves conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

The Times:


Malcolm Lipkin's Sinfonia di Roma attempts to effect a reconciliation between two basically opposed concepts; on the one hand elements of a descriptive tone-poem, on the other symphonic growth and structure. During a visit to Rome the composer was struck by the extraordinary incongruity of the utter chaos of modern traffic conditions within the timelessness and dignity of the ancient setting. In one particular traffic jam all the motorists blew their horns vigorously and the din produced made an unforgettable impact. It is this violent contrast and the feelings it engendered which are given symphonic expression.

The piece is in three movements. In the first, a slow Intrada, a six-note motto theme is exposed; this theme is frequently inverted. The structure is clear and the orchestra is used sparingly, almost starkly.

This reflective introduction leads into a frenzied Scherzo. A telescoped statement of the basic motive is taken up and developed by the full orchestra against an agitated ostinato. At this point pictorialism takes over and the motor hooters are sublimated into quintuplet groups of reiterated notes. Towards the end the full fury of the percussion is unleashed. The arch is completed by a short, reflective Notturno.

The Sinfonia is not strictly 12-tone, though its intervallic procedures show the hand of Schoenberg or, more properly perhaps, Webern, especially in the way that motivic elements are fragmented and allotted to various instruments.

The first performance of this work at Liverpool tonight was impressive. It unfolded logically and its ideas were presented with the utmost economy of means. Yet it was in no way a mere cerebral exercise and the slow movements conveyed emotional warmth and poetry.

The Daily Telegraph:


The work is a soliloquy on the Eternal City, with its paradox of screaming traffic and majestic buildings.

Unlike some of the avant-garde who prefer cold harmonic abstractions, Mr. Lipkin commits himself courageously to bold, idiomatic writing.

His masterly use of percussion creates a cacophonous nightmare worthy of Dante's Inferno, while succeeding wisps of string and woodwind phrasing show the other side of the picture.

This, indeed, is Rome, powerfully and pungently conveyed, in a work whose three linked movements are moulded with a sensitive imagination.