P r o g r a m N o t e s
Sacred Dreams is about a set of fever dreams I had while trying to sleep off a particularly nasty cold. I had three incredibly vivid and interconnected dreams in one night--the kind that stick with you and chill you to the bone. At the time I was re-reading Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (my favorite bit of literature). In my feverish half-sleep St. Peter became my own version of Virgil, guiding me through a metaphysical cosmos both beautiful and terrifying.
The music is in three movements, in the order I had the dreams:
I. The Keeper of the Keys
II. Winged Angels/Dark Angels
III. The Veil of Shadows
The Keeper of the Keys is about St. Peter, who holds the keys to the gates of Heaven. I dreamt that I had reached the top of Mount Purgatory and that St. Peter opened the gates of heaven. After an initial burst of light I saw the heavens in a way similar to how Dante described them: concentric circles surrounding God, rings of angels and ascended souls orbiting around Him singing joyfully.
The second movement, Winged Angels/Dark Angels, is about the angels themselves. I was inspired by Gustav Holst's Mercury, the Winged Messenger in this movement--I wanted to capture the quick movements and sense of mischievousness I had. But I also saw Dark Angels, abandoning grace and falling from the heavens. The music reflects this--the tonality slowly drifts apart until the main theme returns in a completely atonal setting.
The Veil of Shadows is about the lands of death and darkness. I saw strange and terrifying caricatures of people and angelic beings with scraping claws and gnashing teeth, grabbing at my ankles as I passed by. The ending softens the terror just a little--just before I woke up St. Peter said to me, "there is always hope, even for these--none are beyond redemption."
Mirages is a tone poem for Concert Band based on the novel The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Rather than being based on at the plot of the novel, it is centered around a few specific scenes from the novel involving the Jinni. It opens with a scene that takes place near the end of the novel, as the Jinni floats up over the desert and the reader experiences the desert as one of the djinn: beautiful, an explosion of earthy color, red rock, blue sky, and bright oases reflecting the burning sunlight.
The Jinni descends to the ground and a dance unfolds as a group of djinn celebrates one of their secret holidays. In the novel, the Jinni mentions these festivals in passing but always talks about the dancing that marks the events. The dance begins with a few djinn and slowly builds upon itself as more and more join in. The constantly alternating meter brings an element of imbalance to it: djinn aren’t fettered by gravity (or heartbeats, some say) so their rhythm isn’t as rigid as a human’s.
The sun sets on the festival, and some of the djinn hide in the foliage surrounding an oasis. Wecker remarks often on the Jinni’s fascination with water: a deep-seated fear of one the few things in the world that can kill the djinn, but captivated by its beauty and the tricky ways it bends the light. Imagine a deep, placid pool with the djinn watching as a few tiny bugs flit across the surface of the water, sending out small ripples. They stay back and watch a group of Bedouin camped on the fringes. The night passes peacefully and the sun peaks out over the horizon, bursting across the oasis in a wash of golden light.
With the morning comes a shadow on the horizon. A huge, undulating sandstorm rages across the desert. Within, the djinn march to war with their strange, off-beat movements and awkward drum beats. The denizens of the desert flee and hide as best they can, eventually swallowed up by the undulating, windy terror.
Symphony No. 1, After Tchaikovsky
Symphony No. 1 is inspired by Prokofiev and his Classical Symphony, a symphony in the style of Haydn, his favorite composer, as if he were alive in Prokofiev's day. I've written a symphony somewhat in the style of Tchaikovsky, my favorite composer, as if he were alive in our modern era. In conceiving the music for this, I asked myself two questions:
1.) What would Tchaikovsky have done with twenty-first century harmonic and rhythmic freedom? 2.) How would Tchaikovsky have orchestrated his music differently in a modern musical setting, especially if he were faced with a large ensemble without strings?
The music itself is, by and large, original. There are three quotes from Tchaikovsky's symphonies throughout: one in the first movement (a direct quote of the main theme from the first movement of his Fourth Symphony, used as a transitionary idea) and two in the third (both from his Fifth Symphony, the first being an approximation of a transitionary theme in his fourth movement, and the last being a direct quote from the coda of the finale).
Overall, I tried to create a work that was rooted in Tchaikovsky's style and language, but updated with a modern twist and seen through the lens of my own personal style. As for the ending? Well, I just couldn't resist!
Symphony No. 2, Apocalypsis
Apocalypsis is the name of the Book of Revelation in Latin. I had always wanted to write something for chorus and wind ensemble and I had originally conceived this as a much smaller work. As I was composing I quickly realized that it was begging to become something much larger and more complex. In writing this I was inspired by Revelation's message of hope and redemption along with the music of Giuseppe Verdi and Benjamin Britten.
The first movement is a Dies Irae from the Catholic requiem mass (with truncated text). It is representative of the number seven, which is very important in Revelation: the Tribulation is seven years long and God's judgments come in sets of seven. There are seven major sections (the introduction/invocation, the Dies Irae, the Quantus Tremor, the Tuba Mirum, the Quid sum Miser, the Rex Tremendae, and the Lacrimosa).
Movement two is titled Paean, which is a song of triumph. The text is taken directly from the Vulgate (the Latin bible). It opens with a characterization of the beast, and goes on to describe the war that the Antichrist and the beast prosecute upon the world. The choir sings an a capella section telling of the appearance of Christ on a white horse, and the ensemble rejoins them as God's armies fight back and repel the beast and his armies. As the music comes to a climactic ending, the earth is reborn in God's victory. Movement two is dominated by the number three (supremely important in Christian numerology, representing the trinity), which comes to the fore more and more as the symphony nears its end and God's final triumph approaches. The finale also uses J.S. Bach's chorale BWV 310, Es wird schier die letze Tag herkommen, which roughly translates to "the last day has almost come."
Astarael, the Weeper
Astarael, the Weeper is based on Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series. In his books, necromancers use a set of seven bells with different magical properties to control the dead--and the living. Each of the bells is named for one of the Nine Bright Shiners, greatest of the Free Magic creatures from the Beginning. Seven of them gave up their own existence to form the Charter (a system of magic that describes and orders all things), thus bringing order to Free Magic, Life, and Death and empowering those who protect that order. Astarael, also known as the Weeper, is the last and most powerful of the bells. Its sound transports anyone who hears it, including the one ringing the bell, into the deepest precincts of the the river of Death. There are precious few who can return from this last precinct of Death, described as a beautiful night sky. Here, the river's tricky and volatile currents are still and peaceful. The souls who are departing the world are forced to stare upwards by the nature of the place itself, pulled upward to join the stars in their eternal shining.
Mosrael, the Waker
Mosrael, the Waker is based on Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series. In his books, necromancers use a set of seven bells with different magical properties to control the dead--and the living. Each of the bells is named for one of the Nine Bright Shiners, greatest of the Free Magic creatures from the Beginning. Seven of them gave up their own existence to form the Charter (a system of magic that describes and orders all things), thus bringing order to Free Magic, Life, and Death and empowering those who protect that order. Mosrael, also known as the Waker, is a bell favored by Necromancers and Free Magic sorcerers. It has the power to wake dead spirits and animate the bodies in which the Necromancer places them. The sound of the bell generally pushes the ringer into First Precinct of the river of Death (which is generally quite easy to return from) though all of the bells are known to be tricky and it can quite easily throw the user further into Death.
Uriel is the first in a series of pieces I plan to write about the Archangels. Uriel is not mentioned by name in the canonical Bible; however, he does figure prominently in a great many apocryphal texts. He is said to be the angel who stands guard at the gate to the Garden of Eden, armed with a flaming sword. Sometimes he is identified as an angel of salvation and a patron of the arts. In other texts he is described as a warrior angel, as merciless as any demon.