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Category Archives: 2003-04

If you don’t want to read William Schuman’s bio, skip down to the bottom of the page for a video version of sorts.  For those who do: Born in the Bronx, William Schuman (1910-1992) dropped out of business school to pursue composition after hearing the New York Philharmonic for the first time.  He became a central figure in New York’s cultural institutions, leaving his presidency of the Juilliard School to become the first director of Lincoln Center in 1961.  All the while he was active as a composer.  He received the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for music in 1943.  He shared a fondness for wind music with his Juilliard contemporaries Vincent Persichetti and Peter Mennin, from which came many classic works for wind band.

Chester is the third movement of the New England Triptych, a collection of three pieces based on tunes by the colonial-era New England composer William Billings.    Schuman wrote the collection in 1956 on a commission from Andre Kostelanetz and the orchestra at the University of Miami.  Schuman created his own versions for band later, one movement at a time.  Chester came first, right on the heels of the original.  The orchestration of the two versions is obviously different in important ways, and unlike the other movements, Schuman actually expands his treatment of Chester in the band version.  It begins as a chorale before being broken into pieces in an intense development that comprises most of the piece.  Much later (1988) Schuman also produced a set of piano variations on the tune.

Nobody could describe the history of Chester better than Schuman himself (from the band score of the piece):

The tune on which this composition is based was born during the very time of the American Revolution, appearing in 1778 in a book of tunes and anthems composed by William Billings called THE SINGING MASTER’S ASSISTANT. This book became known as “Billings’ Best” following as it did his first book called THE NEW ENGLAND PSALM SINGER, published in 1770. CHESTER was so popular that it was sung throughout the colonies from Vermont to South Carolina. It became the song of the American Revolution, sung around the campfires of the Continental Army and played by fifers on the march. The music and words, both composed by Billings, expressed perfectly the burning desire for freedom which sustained the colonists through the difficult years of the Revolution,

Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav’ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England’s God forever reigns.

The Foe comes on with haughty Stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their Vet’rans flee before our Youth,
And Gen’rals yield to beardless Boys. 

What grateful Off’ring shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Halleluiahs let us Sing,
And praise his name on ev’ry Chord.

Billings himself is described by William Bentley, of Salem, a contemporary, as “the father of our New England Music.  Many who have imitated have excelled him, but none of them had better original power.  He was a singular man, of moderate size, short of one leg, with one eye, without any address, and with an uncommon negligence of person.  Still he spake and sang and thought as a man above the common abilities.”  Billings, born in Boston in 1746, started his career in life as a tanner’s apprentice but soon gave up this trade for music in which he was apparently self-taught.  He organized singing schools, composing music for them which was all the more welcome because relations with England had reached the breaking point and the colonists were glad to have their own native music.  Billings’ many “fuguing tunes” achieved great popularity, but by the time he died in 1800 this kind of music gradually fell into disfavor leaving Billings poor and neglected.  Today given the prospective [sic] of history we see Billings as a major figure in American music.  His indomitable spirit still shines through the sturdy tunes he wrote.

The Ball State University Symphony Band plays the band version of Chester:

The orchestral version, while broadly similar in its chorale-allegro design, takes a very different form than the band version does, and it is about half as long:

Schuman appeared as the mystery guest on the game show “What’s My Line” in 1962.  Sadly, his episode of the show was removed from YouTube.  Instead, you can watch this video portrait of the composer made by his publisher:

More on Chester at the Wind Repertory Project, Wikia Program Notes, an analytic paper by Christopher Ritter, and a high school listening assignment based on the piece (try it!).  Schuman has bios on Wikipedia, his own official website, G. Schirmer, Theodore Presser, and Naxos.  And William Billings has at least one giant column of a website devoted to him and his music.

This is one of my absolute favorite band pieces.  I’ve conducted it 3 times, including once at my wife’s request, and once again at my return to Dartmouth College with the CUWE in 2008.  In fact, hearing this piece as a freshman in the Dartmouth Wind Symphony under Max Culpepper in 1997 (along with Lincolnshire Posy and Holst’s First Suite – what a program!) probably started me down the road to becoming a band director.  So I’m in a little bit of shock that I haven’t written about it yet!  Time to fix that.

Kansas City native Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981) was Broadway’s pre-eminent arranger and orchestrator for most of his career.  His ease with instruments enlivened the scores of George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and many others.  He was composer in his own right, having studied with the renowned Parisian teacher Nadia Boulanger.  He wrote nearly 200 original pieces for several media, including two dozen works for wind band.  The best known of these are his Suite of Old American Dances and the Symphonic Songs for Band.

Bennett was inspired to write the Suite of Old American Dances in 1948 and 1949 after hearing a very special Goldman Band concert:

When Edwin Franko Goldman arrived at his 70th birthday it was celebrated by a concert sponsored by the League of Composers.  For the concert (January 3, 1948) the engaged the Goldman Band of New York and asked Dr. Goldman to conduct his own band in honor of his own anniversary.  Louise and I went to that concert and I suddenly thought of all the beautiful sounds the American concert band could make that it hadn’t yet made.  That doesn’t mean that the unmade sounds passed in review in my mind at all, but the sounds they made were so new to me after all my years with orchestra, dance bands and tiny “combos,” that my pen was practically jumping out of my pocket begging me to give this great big instrument some more music to play.

Thanks to Edward Higgins’s excellent full score edition of the piece for that quote (and all of the other Bennett quotes to follow).

Bennett came up with a five movement suite that he titled Electric Park, after an actual place in his native Kansas City where, as a youth, he heard all of the day’s popular dances (click here for pictures).  He called the park “a place of magic to us kids.  The tricks with big electric signs, the illuminated fountains, the big band concerts, the scenic railway and the big dance hall.  One could hear in the dance hall all afternoon and evening the pieces the crowd danced to.”  His publisher, presumably with marketing in mind, retitled the piece as Suite of Old American Dances.

The Cincinnati Wind Symphony performs the whole piece, all 5 movements:

Bennett’s source material was all real, living American dance of the day.  Let’s break it down one movement at a time.

The Cakewalk originated in Southern plantations as sort of a game for African-American slaves.  Dancers would do impressive-looking struts and kicks, often while dressed mockingly in the fashion of their white masters, and sometimes while also balancing something on their heads.  Often there would be a prize of a piece of cake, hence the term cakewalk.  Here’s what it looked like:

I love the beach scene at the end there!

Here’s a very genteel version of the Schottische, which is actually a German dance related to the polka:

The “Western One Step” is actually based on a dance called the Texas Tommy, which was probably a brothel dance (“Tommies” being women of the night, if you know what I mean).  Here we can see the dance, but you’ll have to imagine the sound:

The “Wallflower Waltz” is just a 20th century take on the classic Viennese waltz, which you can see here:

In the “Rag”, Bennett pushes the limits of his chosen 2/4 time, creating wild syncopations and 2-against-3 patterns, all in the spirit of ragtime music.  Here’s a simple example of a ragtime dance:

More info:

Robert Russell Bennett on wikipedia.

Robert Russell Bennett on IMDB.

Bennett bio on Naxos.com.

Broadway.com tribute to Bennett on the eve of the 2008 Tony Awards.

Google books preview of “The Broadway Sound”, Bennett’s autobiography and selected essays, edited by George Ferencz.

Suite of Old American Dances on wikia program notes, the Concord Band, and in full, 22-page analysis by David Goza of the University of Arkansas (worth the read!).

Suite of Old American Dances was the senior choice for librarian, piccolo/flute player, and love of my life Lisa Samols ’04.  We played it again that summer in Columbia Summer Winds.  We also played it at our exchange concerts with Dartmouth College in 2008.

Andrew Boysen, Jr. (b. 1968) is a prolific composer of wind band music.  He has conducting degrees from Northwestern University and the Eastman School of Music.  He is currently an assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire, where he teaches conducting and orchestration classes and conducts the University wind symphony.  He maintains an active guest conducting schedule, with appearances all over the United States and in Great Britain.  He continues to compose, and has received numerous commissions for new works.  Boysen wrote Conversations With the Night in 1994, in the wake of tragedy.  In his own words:

Conversations With the Night was commissioned by Jeff Doughten and the Andrews, Texas High School Band as a memorial to their friend and fellow musician, Jerry Don Belt.  The piece is based on one of Jerry Don’s favorite hymns, “When I See the Blood.”  There are several trombone solos in the work because that was Jerry Don’s instrument.

The title for this work explains a lot about the organization of the piece and the motivation behind it.  It stems from a conversation I had with Jerry Don’s parents in which they told me of his deep religious convictions, his love of people, his fascination with lightning, and his smiling face.  In other words, they gave me chance to get to know Jerry Don as much as I possibly could.  The one thing that struck me the most in our talk was the fact that Jerry Don used to enjoy going for walks outside at night by himself.  His mother then mentioned how she goes outside at night now to talk with him, because that is when she feels the closest to him.  Conversations With the Night is my reaction to how she must feel at times when she talks to him–feelings of pain, love, and ultimately, peace.

Here are my great friends at the Manhattan Wind Ensemble playing Conversations with the Night:

Here’s the original hymn, “When I See the Blood”, in appropriate congregation-singing style:

The lyrics are here, if you’d like a look.

Learn more about Andrew Boysen at Kjos (his publisher) and the University of New Hampshire.  He also has a fan page on profileengine.com.

Conversations With the Night has some fans on the web.  There’s even another wordpress blog post about it!  It contains a great musical analysis of the piece, which is absolutely worth a read.

We’ve done this piece once in Columbia Wind Ensemble, as a senior choice for CUWE president Cindy Gerson (Glick) ’04.

Boris Kozhevnikov (1906-1985) was a prolific composer of music for Soviet bands.  He attended the Kharkov Music-Dramatic Institute, where he studied composition and conducting, graduating in 1933.  He later attended the Military School of Music in Moscow.  He was the conductor at several theaters and a faculty member of the Moscow Conservatory.  He wrote a handful of orchestral works and over 70 pieces for Soviet military bands, including 5 numbered symphonies for band.  His music was discovered by the west only after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain in the 1990s.  He is still much better known in Russia than anywhere else, although his Symphony no. 3, Slavyanskaya, enjoys popularity in the US thanks to an edition that former Marine Band commander John R. Bourgeois created for American bands in 1995.

Slavyanskaya is a fairly conventional Russian-sounding symphony in four movements.  The first is at times aggressive and lyrical, opening with a strong F-minor declamation.  The second is a slow waltz with an exuberant episode in its coda.  A spritely piccolo solo opens the 3rd movement, a rondo which whizzes by at lightning speed.  The fourth movement is an exuberant finale.  Throughout the symphony, Kozhevnikov uses folk tunes from his native city of Novgorod as the sources of his melodic material.  Although Kozhevnikov wrote Slavyanskaya in 1950, it did not receive its first performance in the US until the late 1990s.

The word “Slavyanskaya” in Russian (Славянская) appears to be nothing more than a proper name.  It’s also applied to a public square in Moscow, a fancy Radisson hotel also in Moscow, and a Russian brand of vodka.

There are bits and pieces about Kozhevnikov and his music, especially Slavyanskaya, at classical-composer.org, the University of North Texas Digital Library, and J. W. Pepper.

Here’s the definitive American performance of Slavyanskaya.  It’s “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band conducted by John R. Bourgeois, who edited the piece for American bands and was the first to conduct it in the US.

There are so many reasons that I’m excited to play Slava!  First, the title actually contains that exclamation point.  Second, it’s by Bernstein, a true American character, and he wrote it about Rostropovich, another great character of the 20th century.  Third, it allows me to put on this blog the most jaw-dropping musical performance I’ve ever seen. (More on that later).  Finally, it’s just so much fun to play!  So, about this piece…

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  His rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

Bernstein wrote Slava! in 1977 on a commission from its namesake, the legendary Soviet-born cellist and conductor, Mstislav “Slava” Rostropovich.  Rostropovich at that point had just assumed the post of music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.  He asked Bernstein to help him present a concert of the composer’s own work early in his first season.  He got three new pieces out of that request: Three Meditations from “Mass”, Songfest, and an untitled “political overture” that was only barely finished in time for the concert.  The latter work turned out to be Slava!, a fun and irreverent tribute and welcome for Rostropovich, who conducted the premiere performance on October 11 of that year.  “Slava” is a common nickname for Russian men whose names contain “-slav”, and Mstislav Rostropovich was known as “Slava” to his closest friends.  “Slava” also means “glory” in Russian.  The program notes at the Kennedy Center, home of the National Symphony, delve deeper and are worth a read.

There is much material about Bernstein on the web.  The survey below only scratches the surface.

Leonardbernstein.com – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at classicalnotes.net.

You’ve been waiting all this time for that jaw-dropping video.  I found this by searching for “best Japanese elementary school band”.  To really make your jaw drop, look what they’ve done with their music stands.  To make it drop even further, listen until the end of Slava! for the famous chant.  Now, without further ado:

Now here’s a look at Slava himself doing what he did best, which was making beautiful music with his cello:

Sarah Quiroz will conduct the 2012 Columbia University Wind Ensemble performance of Slava! at the Columbia Festival of Winds on March 4.


From the CUWE program archive:

In 1910, Igor Stravinsky (b.1882 in Russia, d.1971 in New York) premiered The Firebird ballet with the Ballet Russe, and it became an international success.  Although he was not well known before this, Stravinsky became one of the most famous modern Russian composers.  He is also acclaimed for his ballets Petrouchka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).  Stravinsky received little early musical training, and it was not until he studied under the great Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov that his musical talents became ignited.  Stravinsky arranged three suites that highlighted excerpts from The Firebird ballet.  This afternoon, we will be playing the “Berceuse and Finale” from the suite.  Based on a Russian folktale, The Firebird tells the story of Prince Ivan’s encounter with “a fabulous bird with plumage of fire.”  The bird gives Ivan a magic feather that he may use in the face of danger.  Afraid of being turned to stone by an evil King, Ivan uses the magic feather and the Firebird appears to help him.  In the “Berceuse and Finale”, the Firebird frees all who have been turned to stone, and Ivan wins the hand of a lovely princess.

author unknown (not me), from the Spring 2004 “Russian” concert program.

That pretty much says it all.  Below are some links.  Bear in mind that this piece is performed so often that most links are advertisements for performances or recordings of the work!  I will do my best to omit those below.

Score excerpts from the ballet on Google Books.

The ballet and concert suites on Wikipedia.

The folk tale upon which the ballet is based, also on Wikipedia.

Program notes from Pomona College.

Extensive program notes on the ballet from the Kennedy Center.

Igor Stravinsky on Wikipedia.

Igor Stravinsky in the Time 100, remembering the greatest figures of the 20th century, by composer Philip Glass.

The “Lullabye and Final Hymn” (“Berceuse and Finale” as we know them) conducted by the man himself, Maestro Stravinsky at age 82!!  Things I love about this performance: Stravinsky’s minimal and nearly affect-less conducting; the endless tempo in the Lullabye section; Stravinsky’s only change of facial expression at the very end of the Finale; the comically short quarter notes in the final section (which we will not replicate!); the fact that Stravinsky walks with a cane, but does not need it when conducting.  Enjoy this true gem of a video!

The complete ballet, company and orchestra unknown:

This was a Senior Choice for hornist Justine Ordinario ’09.

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) is a figure of monumental importance in wind band circles.  His First and Second Suites for Military Band are two of the foundational pieces of the wind band genre.  But they did not make him famous in the wider world.  That distinction belongs to his massive orchestral suite, The Planets.  Written between 1914 and 1916 (during World War I), the suite depicts the astrological character of each planet.  It leaves out both Earth, which is not in our sky and thus has no astrological significance, and Pluto, which had not been discovered at the time and has since been relegated to dwarf-planet status.  The movements proceed as follows:

Mars, the Bringer of War
Venus, the Bringer of Peace
Mercury, the Winged Messenger
Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
Uranus, the Magician
Neptune, the Mystic

Clearly, these are not in actual planet order.  There are several possible explanations for this, including that the characters of the first four movements made for a better symphony-like form in that order, or that Holst went in order of proximity to Earth, or that he went in order of their astrological significance.

The Planets was such a hit that it took Holst by surprise, and he felt that its overshadowed the rest of his music.  He never again wrote a large-scale piece for orchestra.

The Columbia Wind Ensemble has played “Mars” and “Jupiter”, so the resources here will focus on those movements.

The quantity of web literature on this piece fits its blockbuster status.  Below is just a sampling of what’s available.  It’s all highly informative, so definitely read!

Wikipedia article

Preview of the full orchestral score on Google Books.

Gustavholst.info – a major web resource for information on the composer.

Program notes on The Planets from Gustavholst.info.

Article on The Planets at Suite101.com, on online writers’ community.

A video interpretation of The Planets from Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.

An article tracing the musical influences and origins of The Planets.

A blog post that compares The Planets to other pieces, including Star Wars.  Also has audio excerpts of each movement.  Very informative!

Another informative article at BestStuff.com.

Now some videos:

Digital simulation of the Mars Rover’s journey with Holst’s “Mars” as the backdrop (not my favorite recording, for the record):

My favorite recording of Jupiter by Charles Duthoit and the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal, with montage!

Another recording of Jupiter, this one LIVE by the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra.  A thrill to watch – I can’t recommend this highly enough!  Linked, because they don’t allow embedding.

What planet Jupiter REALLY sounds like (or, that is, what it’s electromagnetic waves sound like when converted into sound by NASA’s Voyager):

Now, the bonus stuff: info on the planets Mars and Jupiter themselves.  It sometimes amazes me to think that we live in a solar system so vast that our two next-door neighbors take months and years to reach.  The countless stars we see in the sky, none of which we have any hope of reach in one human lifetime, all belong to our same galaxy.  And we are just one of untold billions of galaxies out there, all so vast but so distant as to be nearly invisible from Earth.  Despite our wretched smallness and insignificance in the universe, music like The Planets exists as a testament to a small measure of our greatness.  And we are lucky enough to be able to experience it from the inside.

These movements were picked as 2009 Senior Choices by hornist and percussionist Jeff Petriello and hornist Margot Schloss.  “Mars” was clarinetist Liz Portnoy’s pick in 2004.

“His desire was to relate his art as closely as possible to life, especially that of the Russian masses, to nourish it on events and to employ it as a means for communicating human experience.”  These words, from the indispensable Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, describe the artistic aims of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881).  At times a loner and a collaborator, an artist and a bureaucrat, he emerged from a military upbringing to become a member of “The Five”, a group of Russian composers dedicated to promoting distinctly Russian music.  He died at age 42 after losing a lifelong battle with alcoholism.  He left behind many unfinished work which were completed (and somewhat recomposed) by his friend Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  His most enduring contributions to the musical canon include the opera Boris Godunov, the piano cycle Pictures at an Exhibition, and the symphonic poem Night on Bald Mountain.

Mussorgsky on Wikipedia.

Biographical excerpt from Grove’s Concise Dictrionary of Music.

Dallas Symphony Orchestra Kids Page about Mussorgsky – colorful, fun, and informative.  Includes an edited recording of the Ravel version of “Great Gate of Kiev”.

Written in 1874, Pictures at an Exhibition is a program piece that imagines a person looking a series of paintings at an exhibit in an art gallery.  It is a recreation of a memorial exhibition given in 1873 of the works of Russian artist Viktor Hartmann, a close friend of Mussorgsky’s who had died unexpectedly 3 years prior at age 39.  Each movement of the suite presents a musical depiction of one of Hartmann’s works.  These are often separated by the “Promenade” theme, which depicts the viewer walking between paintings.

The Wikipedia article on Pictures covers all the bases, including mention of the several arrangements that exist and copies of most of the original pictures that inspired Mussorgsky.  Highly recommended!

At Columbia, we’ve only ever done select movement of this.  In the past, it’s been “The Great Gate of Kiev” and “The Hut of Baba Yaga” (look for the video links below).  This time, it’s “Gnomus”.  Here’s an excellent orchestral version (Ravel’s famous orchestration) with the Rotterdam Philharmonic conducted by Valery Gergiev:

Here’s a different version of “Gnomus”, for string orchestra, that features animation based on the paintings that Mussorgsky was supposedly looking at at this legendary exhibition:

This video features a fantastically expressive conductor doing the last two movements, “The Hut of Baba Yaga” and “The Great Gate of Kiev”.  These two are what we will play in April’s concert.  Unforunately the embedding has been disabled, but please go watch – it’s very much worth it!!

John Williams (b. 1932) is perhaps the most famous and accomplished composer alive today.  Even Wikipedia’s extremely dry introduction to his biography can’t dull the luster of his career:

John Towner Williams (born February 8, 1932) is an American composer, conductor, and pianist. In a career that spans six decades, Williams has composed many of the most famous film scores in Hollywood history, including Star Wars, Superman, Home Alone, the first three Harry Potter movies and all but two of Steven Spielberg’s feature films including the Indiana Jones series, Schindler’s List, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park and Jaws. He also composed the soundtrack for the hit 1960s television series Lost in Space as well as the fanfare of the DreamWorks Pictures’ logo.
Williams has composed theme music for four Olympic Games, the NBC Nightly News, the rededication of the Statue of Liberty, and numerous television series and concert pieces. He served as the principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1980 to 1993, and is now the orchestra’s laureate conductor.
Williams has been nominated for 45 Academy Awards and won five. He has also won four Golden Globe Awards, seven BAFTA Awards and 21 Grammy Awards. With 45 Academy Award nominations, Williams is, together with composer Alfred Newman, the second most nominated person after Walt Disney. He was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame in 2000, and was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004.

John Williams’s official website.

A John Williams fan website (better than the official one!)

John Williams on Wikipedia.

John Williams on the Internet Movie Database – easily the most colorful biography of him.

The Cowboys is a 1972 western starring John Wayne for which the young John Williams provided a vivid, intricate score.

A very fine high school band performs Jim Curnow’s band arrangement of The Cowboys.  It’s a lot harder than it sounds!

John Williams conducting the Boston Pops in The Cowboys, which follows the same form as our band version.

Original trailer for the theatrical release of the movie:

Dutch composer Johan de Meij (b. 1953) studied trombone and conducting at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague.  He now resides in suburban New Jersey. He rose to international fame as a composer with his Symphony no. 1 “The Lord of the Rings”.  Written between 1984 and 1987, it was premiered in Brussels, Belgium in 1988.  It went on to win first prize in the Sudler International Wind Band Composition Competition in 1989, and a Dutch Composers Fund award in 1990, and has since become a cornerstone of the repertoire for high-level bands worldwide.

The Symphony is based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy of fantasy novels by the same name, which has recently also been immortalized in director Peter Jackson’s film trilogy.  Each of the symphony’s five movements illustrates an important character or event from the Lord of the Rings story: “Gandalf”, the wizard; “Lothlorien”, home of the Elves; “Gollum”, the pitiful former keeper of the ring; “Journey in the Dark”, a chronicle of an expedition through abandoned Dwarf mines; and “Hobbits”.  Says De Meij of each movement:

I) GANDALF (The Wizard)

The first movement is a musical portrait of the wizard Gandalf, one of the principal characters of the trilogy. His wise and noble personality is expressed by a stately motif which is used in different forms in movements IV and V. The sudden opening of the Allegro vivace is indicative of the unpredictability of the grey wizard, followed by a wild ride on his beautiful horse “Shadowfax”.

II) LOTHLORIEN (The Elvenwood)

The second movement is an impression of Lothlorien, the elvenwood with its beautiful trees, plants, exotic birds, expressed through woodwind solos. The meeting of the Hobbit Frodo with the Lady Galadriel is embodied in a charming Allegretto; in the Mirror of Galadriel, a silver basin in the wood, Frodo glimpses three visions, the last of which, a large ominous Eye, greatly upsets him.

III) GOLLUM (Smeagol)

The third movement describes the monstrous creature Gollum, a slimy, shy being represented by the soprano saxophone. 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.

IV) JOURNEY IN THE DARK

The fourth movement describes the laborious journey of the Fellowship of the Ring, headed by the wizard Gandalf, through the dark tunnels of the Mines of Moria. The slow walking cadenza and the fear are clearly audible in the monotonous rhythm of the low brass, piano and percussion. After a wild pursuit by hostile creatures, the Orks, Gandalf is engaged in a battle with a horrible monster, the Balrog, and crashes from the subterranean bridge of Khazad-Dum in a fathomless abyss.

V) HOBBITS
The fifth movement expresses the carefree and optimistic character of the Hobbits in a happy folk dance; the hymn that follows emanates the determination and noblesse of the hobbit folk.  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.
The symphony in its entirety is quite substantial, so the movements are often performed individually.  “Gandalf” and “Hobbits” are the most frequently performed movements.

Website for Johan de Meij and his publishing company. Includes an extensive bio and works list, as well as a link to program notes of the symphony.

Review of a CD containing the symphony and de Meij’s trombone concerto.

One more program note on Symphony no. 1, from everything2.com.

Now some videos.  Notice, it’s largely different bands for each movement.  They’re not easy!

Gandalf, by the Amsterdam Winds.  I’m pretty sure they used cellos to beef up the low brass/bassoon solos that pepper the movement.

Lothlorien, by the TMK Bad Wimsbach Neydharting:

Gollum LIVE.  Watch this monstrous soprano sax player!

Journey in the Dark by a nameless ensemble (orchestra version).

Finally, Hobbits by an accomplished Dutch band.

Now some Lord of the Rings background for the uninitiated.  The various internet sources below can tell its story much more succinctly and completely than I can.  Suffice it to say that The Lord of the Rings laid the foundation for modern fantasy writing and has inspired countless tributes and adaptations to other media, including notably Peter Jackson’s film trilogy.

Lord of the Rings on wikipedia.

The official movie trilogy site.

Lord of the Rings Fanatics site, for true fans only.

National Geographic’s Beyond the Movie feature on Lord of the Rings.

J. R. R. Tolkien on wikipedia.

Video of the opening scenes of the movie (complete with Chinese subtitles).  Pretty much gives the context for the whole story.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  Please go forth and find more on your own!