The first native symphony to be published in America, Paine's "Spring" Symphony is by no means an American-sounding work. The symphony's alternate nickname is in German-"Im Frühling"-and indeed Paine modeled the work on Joachim Raff's "Spring" Symphony of the previous year. The premiere by the Boston Philharmonic was wildly received, with music critic John S. Dwight standing in his seat opening and closing his umbrella as a sign of enthusiasm. Dwight was a partisan of the conservative German school that lauded the works of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, and the contemporary Raff and Brahms, and railed against the innovations of Liszt and Wagner. Oddly, Paine's Raffish symphony emerges from several motifs that are developed in a quasi-Wagnerian manner and reappear from movement to movement in the cyclical style of Liszt. Over the next decades, Paine would gradually incorporate Wagner's chromatic tendencies into his own work, but his Second Symphony, despite its faintly innovative thematic treatment, wouldn't disappoint anyone who loved Schumann's far more concise "Spring" Symphony.
Paine seems to have written this fifty-minute symphony with a program in mind; he suppressed the allusions when the score was published, but outlined a program to at least one analyst. The first movement begins with an Adagio sostenuto introduction that Paine called "Departure of Winter." That icy season is represented by a desolate A-minor motif groaned by the low strings. After an orchestral outburst, the violins introduce a revolving four-note "thawing" figure expressed first in half notes, then quarters, then eighths, and finally sixteenths-a coming to life that leads to a change of tempo (Allegro ma non troppo) and a sonata movement Paine described as "Awakening of Nature." This is based on a long, sunny A-major melody that is eventually developed in alternation or in counterpoint with the winter theme, while the sixteenth-note "thaw" motif vibrates in the background. Paine combines all these themes in the coda. Next comes a vigorous D-minor Scherzo that Paine designated as "May- Night Fantasy." The themes bounce roughly along in the full orchestra, rather like overweight Mendelssohn, with the woodwinds providing some lightly twittering commentary. The winds take on far more lyrical material in the movement's central major-mode section, while the strings provide an almost non-stop tremolo.
The Adagio, "A Romance in Springtime," shows the heavy influence of Schumann. Its measured, mellifluous, F-major theme is presented simply at first in the violins, but upon each reappearance it is more richly scored until it finally disintegrates into a muted meditation and a coda that subtly combines several of the themes heard so far against a distant horn call.
The final movement, Allegro giojoso, is unofficially called "The Glory of Nature" and is based on leaping, scampering themes. One of those is an upbeat version of the first movement's winter motif, which sometimes appears inverted, and sometimes in combination with the Scherzo's initial melody. All this leads to a broad hymn, the only theme that remains absent from the ensuing development section. It does return in the recapitulation, of course, and provides a majestic coda not only to this movement but to the entire symphony.