Symphony Nr. 1 “Pillars of Wisdom” (2007)

Composed: August 2005-December 2007
Orchestrated: September-December 2007
Duration: ca. 46 minutes
Premiere: TBD
Orchestral Forces: Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 1 English Horn, 2 Clarinets (A), 2 Bassoons, 4 Horns (F), 3 Trumpets (C), 3 Trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), Tuba, Percussion (5 players: Timpani, Cymbals [crash & suspended], Triangle, Snare Drum, Tenor Drum, Bass Drum, Tam-Tam, Chimes), 2 Harps, Strings

You can view the full score here.


A large work, and especially one as extensive as a symphony, marks a milestone in the life of any composer. After contemplating writing my first symphony and loosely collecting themes and material for quite some time, the final inspiration arrived in early 2005, when I came across T. E. Lawrence’s autobiographical account of the Arab Revolt during World War I – “Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph”. Lawrence explicitly states in the preface to the 1926 edition of this work that “the title was originally applied […] to a book of his about seven cities” which “he decided not to publish […] because he considered it immature”; yet, he later “transferred the title as a memento” (ibid.) to the accounts of his well-publicized exploits as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ between 1917 and 1918. The very title and its implications alone and none withstanding, struck a certain chord with me and promised to provide a fertile overall thematic, structural and emotional framework onto which I could weave the entire Symphony.

The source of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom can be found in the Bible, the Book of Proverbs (9:1): “Wisdom hath builded a house: she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” Even though there are various interpretations of these verses, I found 7 of the 9 Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-9) the most compelling, namely those which can be considered “active”, indicating characteristics for which to strive and which to make one’s own:
– “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
– “Blessed are they that Mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
– “Blessed are the Meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”
– “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst for Righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
– “Blessed are the Merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”
– “Blessed are the Pure in heart: for they shall see God.”
– “Blessed are the Peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

Wanting to adhere to a traditional 4-movement structure for this symphony, I grouped these 7 Beatitudes into 3 pairs and gave the one closest to my heart, the Peacemakers, its own section and glorious finale:

I. The Poor in Spirit and the Mournful
II. The Meek and the Seekers of Righteousness
III. The Merciful and the Pure
IV. The Peacemakers

Despite all these religious underpinnings, this symphony is to be seen as a secular, albeit deeply spiritual, work. It is, by and large, a musical meditation on what it is that makes one “wise”, a better, enlightened person. Enlightenment does, however, not come without tremendous struggle – and this work is vastly about the eternal conflict between what is good and wise and its opposing forces. In the end hope prevails, but it doesn’t come easy and requires much anguish and sacrifice.

Beyond its conventional structure, “Pillars of Wisdom” uses a rather traditional and approachable musical language, more reminiscent the of the late and neo-romantic periods than might be expected of a “modern” work at the dawn of the 21st century. In spite of its overall tonality, however, this work extensively uses techniques and explores realms of harmony and orchestration that ground it solidly in 20th century musical tradition.

The almost two and a half years it took me to compose and orchestrate this Symphony were filled with a number of amazing and life-changing events. I believe the music reflects this and grants the listener an insight not only into my own life and soul, but – more importantly, I hope – into his or her own.

Tim Jansa
December 2007