Each of the movements of the symphony take as their starting point forms originating in music of the 16th and 17th centuries.
The first, an intrada, introduces the main thematic material (based on the interval of a minor third) in its embryonic state. As the piece progresses, this material is developed and manipulated in a variety of ways. The interval of the third remains central to the overall scheme of the work, even unifying the three movements on a tonal plane (I: F (minor); II: A flat (major); III: C flat (minor). The internal structure of the intrada is an arch form: ABCBA, roughly modelled on the first movement of Concerto for Orchestra by Witold Lutoslawski, to whose memory the movement is dedicated.
A chaconne follows – the basic material now transformed into expansive solo lines underpinned by a recurring sequence of five chords (again, a third apart). The movement’s structure combines both ternary form and golden section principles and the chaconne’s continuous cycle of chords may be visualised as circles.
The final movement, a rondo, bears the dramatic weight of the entire work, as the underlying tonal tensions surface. A musical journey ensues, making diversions through lyrical territories as well as through more spiky, jazz-flavoured ones. The aural (and visual) montage is perhaps most apparent towards the climax of the piece, where three keys and polyrhythms sound simultaneously in the upper brass, xylophone, horns, and timpani. The climax itself combines the lyrical music heard earlier with the rondo theme, now presented by cornets and trombones in canon.
The teleological thrust of the movement (if not the entire work) can be symbolized by the flight of an arrow, as it steers a predetermined course towards its target.