The Symphony No. 1 by Arnold Bax was completed in 1922 and dedicated to John Ireland. Its outer movements were based on a Piano Sonata in E-flat that Bax subsequently orchestrated, while the central movement was newly composed for the symphony.
It is scored for 4 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 1 alto flute, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 1 heckelphone or bass oboe, 3 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 1 sarrusophone, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, bass drum, tenor drum, snare drum, tambourine, cymbals, gong, triangle, bells, xylophone, glockenspiel, celesta, 2 harps and strings.
It is in three movements:
- Allegro moderato e feroce - Moderato expressivo - Tempo I
- Lento solenne
- Allegro maestoso - Allegro vivace ma non troppo
The work is in many ways autobiographical with some music critics suggesting they could find references within the work to the Great War.
The opening movement begins with a significant motif in the symphony, one which is eventually turned into a triumphal march in the finale, which is relatively short for a Bax symphony. The second subject of the first movement is deeply expressive, almost romantic, as if evoking his deep love for his partner and pianist Harriet Cohen, for whom Bax wrote many works (including his best known orchestral piece, Tintagel).
The second movement, which is in many ways a nostalgic elegy, is even more darkly scored than the opening movement. The movement uses new material, and contains an important motif that uses repeated chords, as if shaking a fist at heaven.
The finale sees a triumphal march made out of material from the first movement and containing the first signs of hope in this symphony, a deeply contrasting mood to the opening two movements of the symphony.