Symphony No. 1


When was it written and when did it premiere?
Wissmer composed his first symphony in 1938. The Musikkollegium de Winterthour, the oldest symphonic orchestra in Switzerland, performed it that same year.

How long does it last?
The piece is in three movements and lasts approximately 20 minutes.

What instruments does he use?
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 4 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 tuba, strings, percussion and harpsichord (or piano)

Is there anything else I should know about it?
This performance by the PEISO will be the Canadian premiere of this fascinating work.

So Wissmer is “modern” composer?
He is definitely a 20th century composer but one who was respectful of the music traditions of the past. He was aware of contemporary thought and modern influences.  The Symphony is a young composer’s work but is already full of personality, a Gaelic elegance and stylishness that mark all his work.

How does he treat his first attempt at a symphony?
1The symphony is very eclectic in spirit with each movement showing a distinctive influence.  The first movement tends towards the classical, the second is post-romantic, and the third gets its inspiration from folk melodies.  There are influences of many of the composers he came into contact with: Francis Poulenc, Wissmer’s teacher Daniel-Lesur, Richard Strauss, Léoš Janáček and even jazz in the style of Darius Milhaud.

After a brief opening the Allegro in G Major is organized around a minuet theme. It is introduced by the oboe and strings then taken up by the piano. The original score calls for a harpsichord with the composer’s note that it can be replaced by a piano. This elegant theme then circulates through all the instruments as the movement progresses.

The Adagio opens with a lilting melody that in the style of Ravel is taken over by the trumpets, oboes and flutes.  A melancholy lament in the strings counters the dramatic fortissimo.

The third movement, Vivace in G, is constructed around a melody taken from Huguenot psalms.  A trumpet solo unfolds over swing syncopations that gives way to the dramatic theme of the beginning.  A coda takes us to a reprise of the chorale and the piece sends on a final bass drum stroke.

1 Based on programme notes for the Naxos recording of the Wissmer Symphony No. 1 by Pierrette Germain, President of the Action Musicale Pierre Wissmer.  The English translation is by John Tyler Tuttle.  They are available in their entirety at:

Is there a recording available of the Symphony?
Naxos recorded the Wissmer Symphony No. 1 along his Piano Concert No. 1 and the Violin Concert No. 1 with the National Symphony of the Ukraine under Fabrice Grégorutti.

The three movements are available on YouTube:

  1. Allegro in G Minor:
  2. Adagio:
  3. Vivace:


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