Visit the Elves of Lothlórien in de Meij’s Symphony No. 1
(Second in a series. For part one, click here.)
Let’s take a trip into the mystical land of the Elves – Lothlórien.
A Mysterious Beginning
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.
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.
A New Bird
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.