“First and last movement” is parenthesised below the title; yet the piece is not in one movement. The first part, lasting 10 minutes, is followed after a short pause by a Marcia funebre of four minutes duration.
23-year-old Rihm scored his Symphony No. 2 for large orchestra, including six percussionists and a string ensemble of at least 60 players. Tremendous tension characterises the first part, the music reflecting a bitter, dramatic struggle; a doomsday atmosphere predominates, the orchestra sometimes sounding like a gigantic organ with solemn unisono chords. The marcia funebre is not funeral music; it is a determined revolt against fate, like soldiers carrying the hero to his grave in full armour.