for symphonic band and solo violin

The Triumpth of Death (c. 1562) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Triumpth of Death (c. 1562) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Written: 1997-99/2004
Duration: 14'00"
Instrumentation: symphonic band and solo violin
PremiereUniversity of Connecticut Wind EnsembleJeffrey Renshaw, conductor, University of Connecticut, Vondermehden Recital Hall, Storrs, CT, April 20, 2006.
PublisherBill Holab Music

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In Crimson Earth, my primary concerns are the exploration of exotic sonorities and textures, the spatial placement of instrumental groups and the process of moving musicians throughout the hall to create interesting textural juxtapositions.

Although no specific programmatic associations are intended in Crimson Earth, two specific references were influential: Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s gruesomely detailed painting The Triumph of Death (c. 1562), and the following short verse I came across in a book of quotations from the Old Testament (Job, Proverbs, 24):

"He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting."

When I was a child, my father introduced me to Breugel’s work and to the work of other imaginative painters from the 15th and 16th centuries, such as Hieronymus Bosch. I think what originally inspired me the most about this particular work by Breugel was how something so morbid and seemingly prophetic could have been painted hundreds of years ago, before some of the worst wars occurred in the history of the world. Of course, I could not help but think to myself, what would a battle as horrifying as the one in Bruegel’s painting sound like?

Perhaps more importantly, what sounds do we associate with battles? The sounds that came to my mind for this piece were drums, trumpets, sirens and explosions, all represented in this highly programmatic work. The combination of winds, brass and percussion seemed to be the perfect vehicle to capture the horrific sounds and gut-turning feelings one might experience during a battle. The only other sounds I needed were instrumental voices meant to represent the sounds of both ignorance and innocence. The sound of a solo violin and a solo flute seemed most appropriate, and these instruments end up framing the entire work.

In this work, I attempt to depict a battle in three connected scenes: armies emerging from far away, an ensuing destructive, chaotic battle and the armies’ final departure. Three marching ?battalions? of military drum and trumpet duos represent the armies. These duos gradually convene toward the stage; the stage represents a battlefield. Once there, a battle begins in which a mostly non-pitched percussion section is highlighted through the use of battle-like sounds. As previously mentioned, two "solos" frame the three middle sections: one on a violin and the other as a duo with flute and violin. (The option of playing the violin part on an oboe is given in the score.) The whole work is essentially in a loose arch form.

The title, Crimson Earth, refers to the bloody color of the earth after battle and the power and heroism people often associate with the color red. However, although many cultures have glorified wars and battles, this is not my goal in this work. Crimson Earth represents the profound sadness that wars ultimately cause, but this work also tries to represent hope.

Part I

• (Violin Solo)
• Melting Chimes of Starlight
• Remembrance of Long Ago Idyllic Youth
• Mini Trumpet Bats, Descending
• Rising Darkness
• Brief Sky Opening, Cry for Absolution

Part II

• Calm before the Storm: Glimpses of Despair
• Three Battalions approach from Afar
• War Sirens
• Battle
• Swells of Sadness
• Three Battalions Retreat
• Ashen Rainbows

Part III

• Memorial to the Sacrificial Dead
• Deserts of Ruin
• Breaths of The Everlasting Rising Phoenix
• Peace Wish

I really like your music a lot! There is humor (Wind Quintet, Closet Full of Demons... etc.) sensuality (Symphony in Three Movements) and some undeniable chops (Electric Lines). I was particularly intrigued by [Crimson Earth]. That was a real psychedelic trip with weird moans casting a dark shadow across a march... lots of kaleidoscopic fades and dissolves—very, very cool! You are a personable laid-back guy, but your music shows years of disciplined dedication to your craft combined with a wonderfully vivid imagination.
— Steven Mackey, Composer, Professor of Music, Princeton University