Russian Christmas Music by Alfred Reed

So I’m much later than I’d planned for this post, because 1) I’m a musician and it’s

Russian church in the snow

Russian church in the snow. Photo by tpsdave (via pixabay)

December, one of my busiest months, and 2) I couldn’t decide which piece to discuss. Then I realized it would be silly not to talk about Russian Christmas Music by Alfred Reed, one of the staples of band literature.

I’ve talked about Alfred Reed before, but since his works are so embedded in concert bands everywhere (and I’m such a band geek), it’s inevitable that I would feature another piece of his on the blog. Russian Christmas Music was originally composed in 1944; however, it underwent some revisions before arriving at the published work (1968) that’s still played today.

Before getting into the piece, I want to share the carol that provides the thematic basis for the piece (you can find the sheet music at IMSLP):

 

Now, on to the piece!

 

While Russian Christmas Music is performed as one continual piece, there are four distinct sections.

Children’s Carol (beginning-3:04)

We start rather solemnly, with a sustained low note and a slowly repeated chime. It sounds like a call to Mass. Then we hear carol singing from the clarinet section. It is slow and haunting, a beautiful lush sound. We’re joined by other instruments as the song continues into its next part (the lyrics talk about the “shaggy pony, shaggy oxen,” 1:12). There’s some call and answer between woodwind and brass.

We add another layer of voices at 1:36, continuing to build in volume and range, until we hit a beautiful major chord at 1:54. The chime and low drone renew their presence, bringing us back down to our previous somber tone.

The clarinet choir begins its theme again (2:06), but does not play it through entirely. The brass join in at 2:30 with a hymn-like chord progression. The woodwinds answer at 2:47, their line reminiscent of choral amen responses still heard in some churches today.

Antiphonal Chant (3:05-6:46)

The percussion lead us into the next section of the piece with a crescendo. At 3:08, the trombones initiate the chant, with a response from the woodwinds at 3:16. “Antiphonal” traditionally means something is sung (or played, in this case) back and forth between two groups. The trombones again lead the chant at 3:28, but this time the other brass join in for the answer (3:37). The brass continue with some long chords that serve as a transition into the next theme of the chant.

At 3:58, the clarinets play a more upbeat chant, with other instruments adding to it in layers, creating a short fugue as it builds. The brass come in triumphantly at 4:10, starting with the clarinet chant theme, then switching to the trombones’ chant theme (4:16).

The woodwinds come in with the fast chant at 4:30, with the brass punctuating each phrase. There’s a whirlwind of sound, culminating in a tense chord (with a run of woodwinds in the background), a cymbal crash, then a single pitch from the lower brass. The revelry dies down into a more subdued manner, with the clarinets playing a descending line that makes it feel like they’re lowering down piously onto bended knee (4:50).

The English horn enters at 5:05 with a gorgeous solo. Seriously, these are the types of lines this instrument was made for. Listen closely to this melody, as it will come back later in the piece. The English horn finishes its statement, and the flutes and oboes bring back a bit of the liveliness (5:37) without overdoing it. There’s a horn call, and the clarinets come back in with another pious statement (5:44).

At 5:57, the English horn comes back in with another lovely melody. The upper winds again enter with their dance, this time joined by the clarinet line we heard earlier at 4:50. Another horn call finishes the antiphonal chant section and prepares us for the village song.

Village Song (6:47-10:09)

Once again, the clarinets are featured as they provide the initial theme of the Village Song (I swear that’s not the only reason I like this piece!) This time, however, there’s a wonderful string bass pizzicato line underneath the rich, smooth chords of the clarinet choir. This section has a folk song feel to it, though I don’t believe it was taken from an existing melody like the Children’s Carol. This section is in 6/4 (six beats per measure with the quarter note as the beat).

At 7:20, more instruments come in, creating a very organ-like sonority. Notice that despite the added voices, the volume has not increased much. The instrumentation is reduced again at 7:28, but the oboe remains with the clarinet choir and bells take over for the string bass. We have one more round of fuller orchestration (7:37) followed by the oboe and bell feature (7:44).

One small horn call at 7:51 leads into the second verse, so to speak, of the Village Song. Reed continues to alter the orchestration of each phrase. The oboe run at 8:23 signals a turn into new territory. We hear some slight changes to the melody, with some additional ornamentation in the horn at 8:27 and 8:31. We still hear some familiar sounds until 8:42, when he introduces a new note (A♭, when we’ve largely been in the key of G minor here). It’s repeated at 8:46 and 8:50, reinforcing that something is different. The phrase winds down, ending in a lovely major chord (9:01). There’s one more horn call, then the pious clarinet phrase from the antiphonal chant.

We’re treated to another English horn solo at 9:22, though this time it stretches upward more before coming back down. The horns reply, not with the horn call we heard earlier, but more of an “amen” feeling that prepares us for the Cathedral Chorus.

Cathedral Chorus (10:10-end)

A low drone from the bass voices begins this last section. Above that, we start to hear gongs, cymbals, bells, and chimes. The trombones come in with a new motif, which is repeated and extended. It repeats again, this time breaking out into a chord (10:59). More and more layers of brass enter with a repeated small motif; eventually, the middle and upper woodwinds add their voices.

As the texture builds, the rhythm quickens from using half notes in places to using quarter notes. The overall tempo doesn’t increase all that much, but thanks to using shorter notes we feel like the pace is quickening. This builds until 11:32, where most of the ensemble moves as one in quarter notes with the brass sounding their calls between phrases. Notice the pace did get a bit faster and it still feels as if we’re building toward something.

At 11:45, we hear a wonderful wall of sound – most of the ensemble has a long, short, long chord motif, the timpani is wailing away underneath, the high winds are buzzing furiously above, there’s assorted percussion crashing about, and the horns and trombones have an answering call. We still continue to build, pushing everything to the limit, reaching, until we hear four powerful chords at 12:17. The entire ensemble cuts off together, then comes in as one with a mighty statement at 12:23, finally tapering down into quietness. (I’ve talked before about the ends of notes being as important as the beginnings. Here’s another perfect example of that.)

Remember the English horn theme from earlier? The clarinets pick up that theme at 12:36. I love how the oboe subtly joins them at 13:29 – it takes an excellent oboist to blend that entrance so well without sounding like an injured duck. After the oboe’s successful entrance, more instruments start joining in. We start building once again, this time toward the final push of the piece. The horns give an extra nudge at 13:46, encouraging us onward.

The trumpets and horns explode in a powerful rendition of the English horn theme at 13:53, with a glorious cacophony happening in the other instruments between phrases – low brass thundering, high winds twinkling, chimes ringing joyfully. The woodwinds take over the melody at 14:10 so that the high brass can play a fanfare (14:16). They return to the melody for the next phrase, but the horns join the woodwind line at 14:23 and completely own it.

As we go into the next phrase, we expect to keep building toward the finish, but Reed surprises us by bringing down the volume at 14:42. It’s brief – we immediately begin to crescendo again – but he gets our attention. We build again until we reach a strong chord at 14:49, bringing in more joyous cacophony. The chimes are ringing throughout the land and you can hear the high winds swirling fervently in the atmosphere. The brass are bold and strong, bringing back the trombone’s theme we heard earlier, with cymbals crashing, timpani pounding, and horns calling. I love the bit at 15:20, where the brass unite in a slightly accelerated rhythm, the cymbals crashing purposefully (and perfectly) in each of the brass’ rests. The horns continue their calls, with the rest of the ensemble providing a mass of sound, finally holding on to a solid chord as we finish the piece with a final punch.

Such a powerful piece! If you don’t feel some sort of emotion during the Cathedral Chorus section, you obviously don’t have a soul.
If you don't feel any emotion during the Cathedral Chorus section, you obviously don't have a soul. Click To Tweet

So that wraps up my final post for 2014. Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate, and I wish all of my readers a lovely holiday season. I’ll see you in January!

 

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Symphony No. 1 “The Lord of the Rings”, mvt 5 (Hobbits) by Johan de Meij

LEGO Hobbit by Kyla Duhamel

LEGO Hobbit by Kyla Duhamel

No discussion of The Lord of the Rings, musical or otherwise, would be complete without mentioning the Hobbits of the Shire. They seem inconsequential to man and other creatures, given that they’re only 3-4 feet tall and prefer to keep to themselves in the Shire, but Tolkien shows that they are able to do some truly remarkable things.

Now that we’ve made it through the dangers of Moria, let’s visit the Shire. To me, this movement is sort of a “slice of life” portrait of the Hobbits. De Meij captures well both their joviality and their reverence.

 

This movement does not start with flash or frill. It starts with the lower voices, soft and sustained. The brass enter quietly with a horn call (0:34), followed by layers of horns repeating the horn call motif, but still they remain quiet. At 0:43, we hear a fanfare – do you recognize it? It’s our introduction to this entire symphony – the opening of Gandalf’s movement. Notice, though, that it’s subdued at first. Respectful. Starting at 0:57 we hear echoes of the horn call from the trombones, with a crescendo into 1:03, where the trumpets emerge powerfully with the fanfare. It’s a restatement of the beginning of the first movement, but instead of leading us to Gandalf’s mysterious theme, we instead head into the Shire. At 1:21 you’ll hear more nods to the first movement as we transition into new material.

Here at 1:37 we truly step in to the Hobbits’ world. It’s a cheerful place, with dancing, singing, and laughing. The low voices set the tone with an open, uncomplicated (though effective) bass line (1:43) with offbeats supplied by the brass. The clarinets and percussion come in with an additional layer of accompaniment, giving this section an extra spring in its step. It feels lighthearted.

The scene set, the trumpets arrive with the theme at 1:57, which I’ll refer to as the dance theme. The first half of the theme consists of a four-measure phrase that immediately repeats almost note-for-note; the second half introduces a new phrase that lasts for eight measures (for a total of sixteen measures for the theme). For the first half, the accompaniment is bouncing along, continuing what was introduced at the beginning of this section. The second half, however, is more sustained and introduces some tension in the downward line of the middle voices. It’s not unpleasant, though. The theme repeats.

At 2:38, we move into another repetition of the theme, but notice how the voicing and accompaniment change. The horns, flutes, and oboes now have the melody, and the accompaniment falls on the off beats, accentuated by the snare drum. For the second half of the theme (2:48), we shift just a bit. The clarinets have taken over the melody with a nice counter-melody in the euphonium.

Now we get to the fun part! The basses get to put on their dancing shoes and show the world that we can also play a melody, not just the “ooms.” (I first played this piece shortly after purchasing my new pro-level bass clarinet. I completely geeked out at this part. I’m not ashamed.) Anyway, the basses do their thing for the first half under the bounciness of the accompaniment, then let the trumpets take over for the second half of the theme. Notice there’s still some bouncing this time from the clarinets. They’re a happy bunch.

We repeat this iteration of the theme (because, well, why wouldn’t you?). But notice that when the trumpets come back in for the second half (3:27), the horns also come in with one of those great descending lines that they like to do.

At 3:37, we gather everyone around for one last dance through this theme. It’s big and full, and you can imagine the Hobbits are having a grand old time. Listen closely to the second half of the theme (3:47), as you can hear not only the descending horn line, but also the euphonium counter-melody from before.

The party doesn’t last forever, though; we move away from the dance theme and into a turbulent transition. In the bass voices, we hear a steady, pounding beat reminiscent of the “Journey in the Dark” movement. On top of that we hear short, jarring chords from the brass and woodwinds that remind us of Gandalf’s movement. Fortunately, the discord doesn’t last long. We decrescendo into the next section, the pounding beat and jarring chords fading away and beauty rising out of the chaos.

For the next section, here’s how the composer describes it:  “[T]he hymn that follows emanates the determination and noblesse of the hobbit folk.” The tempo marking that he uses in the printed music is “nobilmente” (nobly). We start the theme with a beautiful, full clarinet choir sound (4:33), followed by a flugelhorn solo. Listen closely to the melody and you can hear how closely related it is to the dance theme. There are some differences (most notably the change from 2/2 time to 3/4 time), but they’re built on the same foundation.

The theme repeats, this time a bit fuller due to a few more instruments joining in. I love how at 5:19 he changes the melody just slightly to take it higher before coming back down. It’s a subtle change, but quite effective. The second half of the theme gains some additional harmonies, then builds up toward the next iteration.

At 5:37, we get a sense of the Hobbits’ strength. It’s not an obnoxious show of power – that’s not the Hobbit way. But we feel that these small creatures are capable of great things. The first half of the theme is straightforward, using the trumpets to proudly carry the melody with the timpani providing steady support below. The second half brings in another euphonium counter-melody. This iteration of the theme repeats with the addition of a horn counter-melody for the first half (6:11).

The hymn draws to a close, and we revisit more material from the first movement: both the heroic (6:52) and more subdued (7:04) of Gandalf’s theme, then moving on to the fanfare (7:15). But instead of coming to a mighty end like the first movement, this time we taper off, hearing echoes of horn calls as the volume dies down.

At 7:56 we hear a bit of the mysterious Gandalf theme, though here it ends on a satisfying major chord (8:05). There are echoes of the closing cadence from the upper winds and the middle voices. The timpani supplies a subtle beat underneath, and we hear a lovely callback to the Lothlórien movement. The movement trails off, the timpani carrying on, lovely chords fading into the distance.

I’ll refer to the composer’s own words to describe the ending:

The symphony does not end on an exuberant note, but is concluded peacefully and resigned, in keeping with the symbolic mood of the last chapter “The Grey Havens” in which Frodo and Gandalf sail away in a white ship and disappear slowly beyond the horizon.

Mixing Gandalf’s themes into the Hobbits’ movement is significant in two ways: 1) it brings us full circle to music we heard a (relatively) long time ago, and 2) it illustrates the special relationship Gandalf has with the Hobbits, especially Bilbo and Frodo.

I’ve spent several posts delving into Middle-Earth. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey.

 

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Symphony No. 1 “The Lord of the Rings”, mvt 4 (Journey in the Dark) by Johan de Meij

What’s a fantasy novel without a little adventure? This movement follows the Fellowship through the mines of Moria to the bridge of Khazad-Dûm, where Gandalf battles the Balrog.

The timpani begins the movement with a slow, trudging beat. The low voices join in at 0:36, adding a sense of weight and dread. We know right away that this is not a happy place – no rainbows and unicorns here. This will be a wearisome journey for our travelers.

We get our first bit of melodic content at 1:08, with the bassoon lending an eerie sound. The theme works its way upward, but keeps with the gloom and the nasal double reed tone color. Listen for the “water drops” from the percussion at 1:38. After the reeds end their motif, the low voices become a bit more insistent with their footsteps; the timpani is no longer the sole voice hitting every beat.

The horns introduce a new motif at 1:51. It’s bolder, but still ominous. There are some low plunks from the piano, and the double reeds come in again. The clarinet has a downward line that’s reminiscent of a bass clarinet line we heard in the Lothlórien movement. The horns continue on with staggered entrances beginning at 2:13 that add tension thanks to the dissonance between the notes they play. They further that tension at 2:22 by playing against the steady downbeat of the bass and timpani.

At 2:33, the English horn comes in (such a beautiful, haunting instrument!), echoed by the clarinets. We hear a bit more activity in the background (from orcs, perhaps?). The trumpets sneak in at 2:52, changing the tone color from what we’ve been hearing so far. It’s subtle, though, and keeps the tension with clustered chords and staggered entrances. It keeps building, with an accented hit from the woodwinds at 3:05 followed immediately by an accented hit from the bass voices.

De Meij keeps layering and building until we get a sizable crescendo into 3:19. Note that this is the loudest point so far. I think that the quietness fed the tension, as it was not allowed to grow. But now things are bursting forth: the trombones come in on the motif we first heard in the English horn, the upper winds flurry about, and there’s an ominous horn call at 3:32 that’s echoed by the English horn, followed by a final statement by a clarinet.

At 3:43, the woodwinds take over the horn motif we heard earlier (1:51), with interjections from the English horn and trumpets. They then switch over to the motif from the English horn/trombones, continuing to build it up. They add more tension as the horns did before, by playing counter to the insistent drumbeat. But this time, the middle voices aren’t content to let the upper voices add just a bit of tension. They want to add more. They continue to go against the beat, alternating with the upper voices, until we reach a SMASH from the percussion and low brass.

The bold note from the low voices feels like we should be at a resting point. No luck there! Activity starts swirling around us (did we even catch a glimpse of Gollum at 4:50?) Listen to all the different voices and motifs happening here – there’s a lot going on. At 5:07, the basses start making a move out of the shadows, leading to a frantic chase that begins at 5:19. According to the program notes, this is where the orcs and trolls have chased the Fellowship to the bridge of Khazad-Dûm and the Balrog rises up to challenge them.

Then there is a great battle! Gandalf against the Balrog. The tempo is much faster here, with continued pounding on every beat and swirls of sound from the woodwinds. At 5:37 we hear a callback to Gandalf’s movement via the punctuated chords in the horns This alternates with the horn call from earlier in this movement. The battle rages on until 6:05, where we hear a different take on the pulsing and swirling. This builds up to a tense trill at 6:19, as Gandalf moves to finish off the Balrog.

Victory! We hear Gandalf’s theme triumphantly blaring as the Balrog falls to its death off the bridge (6:23). But wait – what’s happening? The theme does not continue on in heroic fashion; Gandalf has been snared and is pulled down with the Balrog into the depths of the abyss. De Meij paints a vivid picture as the pitch continues downward, accented by a requiem bell. The sound tapers off, ending this section with a moment of silence for the fallen Gandalf.

The travelers, though in shock, realize they must gather their strength and push forward despite their loss. They proceed in a sort of funeral march, with the English horn reflecting their grief in a haunting presentation of Gandalf’s theme. Listen also to the rising woodwind line starting at 8:02, as it also is reminiscent of another phrase in Gandalf’s movement. There are some repeated tones from the high voices in what, to me, sounds like the last sad cries of grief before coming back down to a final sigh in the horns at 8:34. The sound fades out as the Fellowship finds its way out of Moria.

Coming soon: the conclusion of Johan de Meij’s “Lord of the Rings” Symphony.

Symphony No. 1 “The Lord of the Rings”, mvt 3 (Gollum) by Johan de Meij

Gollum and Frodo by Simon Q

Gollum and Frodo by Simon Q

My preciousssss…

     …nasty Hobbitses!

Originally a Hobbit from the Gladden Fields known as Sméagol, Gollum fell prey to the power of the One Ring. This lead to an extended lifetime of wretchedness that affected both his mind and body. Gollum is a dichotomy of love and hate, expressing both emotions toward himself and the Ring.

Gollum appears in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo Baggins finds the Ring and Gollum in The Hobbit and inadvertently discovers the Ring’s power of invisibility while trying to escape the goblin’s tunnels and Gollum’s lair. In The Lord of the Rings, Gollum follows the Fellowship and eventually insinuates himself into Frodo and Sam’s company in order to try to reclaim his “precious.”

 

Just as the first two movements of de Meij’s symphony are very different from each other, so is the third. One thing I admire most about this symphony is how effectively de Meij depicts different characters and scenes. There is no mistaking Gollum for Gandalf.

The composer’s website has a great description:

It mumbles and talks to itself, hisses and lisps, whines and snickers, is alternately pitiful and malicious, is continually fleeing and looking for his cherished treasure, the Ring.

While we open with a strong statement, it is far removed from the stately fanfare of Gandalf’s movement. We are immediately struck by its harshness. It’s very brassy and doesn’t sound all that happy. There’s a brief respite at 0:32, but the brass just comes right back to assault us some more. After the second assault, though, we get our first glimpse of the strange creature – Gollum.

Gollum peeks out at 0:43 with sustained tones, almost as if he’s testing the waters before making a move. He has a few quick movements here and there – a bit of jumpiness that underscores his erratic behavior. This part reminds me of the beginning of “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” from the musical Cats, especially at 1:10. The strange creature of Gollum is played here by the strange creature of the soprano sax.

Gollum skitters around his lair, and while the solo line has a melodic aspect to it, it’s neither pretty nor overly structured. But it’s exactly right for Gollum. I would not expect the beauty of the lilting theme of Lothlórien in a piece that depicts such a bizarre character. He meanders around on his own, finally ending his soliloquy with what sounds rather like wailing (0:39-0:46).

At this point, we get some structure to the piece with firm oom-pahs from the low brass. This section is mostly in 6/8, which gives the oom-pahs a bit of a lopsided feel. Listen how the accompaniment stops in a few spots – it feels like we’re about to take a step but stop in mid-air. At 2:03 there’s a tumbling quadruplet figure, where the melody line plays a run of four notes in the time normally occupied by just three (in this case, four sixteenth notes in the space of three eighth notes). Then at 2:07 he slips in a 5/8 measure, a sort of hiccup, further taking away any sense of stability we had. Instead of the 1-2-3-4-5-6 we just got used to, we have 1-2-3-4-5; he stole an eighth note!

The theme finishes up with a callback to the wailing motif we’d heard as a transition into this section. There’s a pause, then a quiet “blip” by a handful of woodwinds at 2:16. Then we head back to the beginning of the lopsided theme to give it another go. This time de Meij adds in a couple more instruments to the accompaniment, most notably a vibraslap.

From there, we think we’re going to take yet another crack at the lopsided theme, adding in the piccolo and others to the melody and the horns blaring some notes. We don’t linger, however, and at 2:56 the low brass take over in order to lead us into the next section of the piece. We start the transition in 5/8, then move into one measure of 4/8 at 3:00 (another eighth note gone!).

This next section has a certain relentlessness to it in the oom-pah accompaniment. It’s contained to middle voices, and if you listen closely, at one point there’s a very subtle shift from which group plays the “ooms” and which plays the “pahs.” Various instruments enter here and there with echoes of previous motifs. There’s a bang at 3:22, followed by a small shake-up of the accompaniment, but we continue on with the bits and pieces of the various motifs. Around 3:46 the intensity starts to grow, pushing and pushing until we’re swept into the next section.

At 3:58 we hear the Great Brass Double Tonguing Extravaganza™. Double tonguing is an important technique for brass (and some woodwind) players. Usually, each note gets articulated with the tip of the tongue (ta ta ta ta). But when double tonguing, players use “ta ka ta ka” instead, which allows for greater speeds.

Anyway, the double tonguing section is very intense, with lots of accents. There are interjections from other instruments, notably the woodwinds at 4:38. We keep up the relentless hammering until 4:57, where everything swirls down into a deep, dark pool of sound, and things are still.

But then, out creeps a familiar figure. That strange creature who was once a Hobbit, but is no longer recognizable as one. Gollum returns to what we heard at the beginning of the piece, though this time the melody is not always a solo (maybe to reflect the dual nature of his personality?) He slinks around for a while, a little calmer than at the beginning, but still wailing. We also have that low, sustained bass voice on a single note that adds a sense of foreboding.

Gollum get back to “normal” at 7:07 with the lopsided theme. This time we have the oom-pahs in the lower voices, with the middle voices making some sea-sickening waves. The upper voices join in with the melody. The whole section repeats, then goes into an eerie sounding transition (8:07). We actually heard a bit of that at the beginning, during the “bit of calm” before our first glimpse of Gollum. De Meij expands this theme for a while, adding some other melodic material starting around 8:26.

We hear one last chunk of the lopsided theme (9:05), adding yet more chaos to the out of control merry-go-round that is Gollum’s mind. Things finally spiral down into the clatter of the vibraslap. But Gollum’s not quite finished – there’s a last bit of craziness and a callback to the first theme before the final four forceful notes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip down insanity lane. After this, we’ll head on an adventure!

Symphony No. 1 “The Lord of the Rings”, mvt 2 (Lothlórien) by Johan de Meij

(Second in a series. For part one, click here.)

Let’s take a trip into the mystical land of the Elves – Lothlórien.

We immediately get a sense that this movement is going to be rather different than Gandalf’s. The bass voices begin with a low, held note, providing a foundation for the clarinet to come in with an otherworldly “bird call” of sorts. Another clarinet joins in at 0:51, at an interval of a fourth lower than the first clarinet.

At 1:08, some of the middle voices add to what has, so far, been rather sparse instrumentation. It feels like we’re seeing (well, hearing, I suppose) the vegetation of this beautiful place. We still hear some bird calls from clarinets, though shorter than in the opening. There’s a sudden rustling at 1:22, as if we’ve accidentally disturbed a little creature’s nest. Apparently that creature is an oboe, which we hear take up its own bird call at 1:24. Other creatures are stirring – there’s a piccolo at 1:31 and a bassoon at 1:36. The oboe and bassoon continue playing as a duet to lead us into our next section.

The Path to Lothlórien by James Daisa

The Path to Lothlórien by James Daisa (CC BY-SA)

Clustered chords mark the pulse to begin the section (1:42). While there’s some dissonance in there, it’s not harsh. The chords provide just a short introduction before backing out of the way for the theme of this section, which I’ll call the “lilting” theme. Notes from the composer’s site describe this section as the meeting of Frodo and Lady Galadriel. The theme is very light, played by the upper woodwinds (flutes and clarinets), but not in the upper part of their range. At 2:11, the oboe takes over the theme, with bassoons underneath. In the second half of the oboe’s take on the theme, little twinkling lights (or perhaps fireflies?) appear courtesy of the flutes and clarinets (2:22).

We start to hear a change at 2:23; the clustered chords are back in the horns, and the low voices take us down into new territory. Some of the brass start to make their presence known – the trumpet plays a melodic line with accents from instruments below (2:37-2:47). The crescendo at the end of that phrase disrupts some of the woodwind creatures and we hear more fluttering. The fluttering quiets down, but there’s a sense of foreboding as the lower instruments echo the flutter motif (3:02). Then the brass comes in with some harsher dissonance than what we heard earlier in the piece.

But things settle down, and we return to the bird calls, similar to what we heard at the beginning of the movement. This time, a new sort of bird joins us – a flugelhorn (3:44). As my husband informed me while I was listening to this part, “Sometimes you just need a little flugelhorn.” I’ll take his word on that. The flugelhorn melody then brings us back to the litling theme. The intro is a bit more separated this time (4:09), and the twinkling lights appear right away. I especially appreciate the bass clarinet line that leads into the theme 🙂 (4:19). Also notice that the theme is shortened; instead of the flutes and clarinets getting a full statement, then the oboe getting a full statement, now the flutes and clarinets get the first half while the oboe gets the second half.

At 4:42, the lights keep twinkling and the clarinets set a steady pulse with their accompaniment. This moves us into the next section of the piece, which begins the depiction of the visions Frodo sees in the Mirror of Galadriel. If you listened to the first movement of this symphony, you should recognize the theme – it’s the “Gandalf the White” theme (4:48). Contrast its treatment in this movement compared to what we heard in Gandalf’s movement. This time it’s more subdued, with a quiet power, moving among the twinkling lights. The second half of the theme grows more powerful (5:07), adding some of the low brass into the mix. I like how de Meij also incorporates the tension we heard in the first movement at the end of this theme. The timpani brings us back to our lilting theme tempo, despite the tension that’s happening above.

The brass take over the lilting theme at 5:29, giving it a different tonal color than when the woodwinds played it. It’s still subdued, though, at least for the first half. In the second half (5:41), we get some punctuation from the low brass, which starts to change the mood of the piece. We feel things are going along okay, though maybe a bit darker, until the timpani smashes through, bringing along the low brass and disrupting everything (5:55). This is where Frodo sees a vision, as the composer’s website states, “the last of which, a large ominous Eye, greatly upsets him.” The birds are freaking out, the lilting theme is more frightening than soothing, and there are some violent interjections from the brass and percussion.

Fortunately, the vision doesn’t last long, and things begin to return to normal-ish. Fragments of the frightening version of the lilting theme travel down through the ensemble, with the lowest voices growling it out at 6:22. Once things have settled down, a mournful bird (aka baritone saxophone) sings its song (6:38). Though if you listen closely, you’ll continue to hear the timpani marking a steady beat. After the bird song we hear some ethereal pulsing from the middle voices – it’s a neat effect. The pulsing continues, though it fades in volume and voices. Eventually, the pulse slows to a stop. It’s not necessarily an ending one would expect. De Meij leaves us with a sense of foreboding, making us wonder what will happen to the Elves and their beautiful home.

Stay tuned for the next part of the story. We’ll meet one of the most interesting characters of Middle-earth.

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