Skip navigation

Category Archives: Magic and Mystery Concert

We’re in the thick of the Columbia Wind Ensemble Fall 2010 season.  Please keep reading for information on the CUWE’s fall 2010 concerts: “Transformations” on 10/17/10, and “Magic & Mystery” on 11/21/10.  Also on the radar is the Westchester County Arts Leadership Association band reading session on 11/2/10.  Enjoy a look at some great repertoire!

Columbia University Wind Ensemble Fall 2010

**One special note about this season: given the 12 seniors we have in the band this year, I’ve decided to spread out the usual Senior Choices throughout the entire season.  So each concert will have a handful of senior contributions, rounded out by own picks.  Senior picks will be noted, and any that aren’t are my choices.**

MAGIC & MYSTERY – November 21, 2010

This set is a study of the mystical.  The obvious star of the show is Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but the others present equally compelling looks at the mysterious. De Meij’s Gandalf presents a musical characterization of the famous grey wizard from Lord of the Rings.  Thompson’s Alleluia is an appeal to a higher power at a time of great darkness and uncertainty.   Nelson’s Homage to Machaut pays tribute to the medieval vocal master – I find that both Nelson’s and Machaut’s works possess an other-wordly quality.  Weinberger’s Schwanda explores the mystical powers of music through truly out-of-this-world counterpoint.  All of them shine a light on a mysterious place.

Gandalf by Johan de Meij

Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper by Jaromir Weinberger

Alleluia by Randall Thompson, arr. Lewis Buckley

Homage to Machaut by Ron Nelson

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas, arr. Frank Winterbottom (for clarinetist [formerly bass] and world traveler Alicia Samuel)

Note: Pagan Dances by James Barnes hasn’t disappeared completely.  Look forward to hearing that at the 3rd annual Columbia Festival of Winds on 3/6/2011.  Also for that event, you’ll want to be ready with Sousa’s Washington Post March, which will be our massed piece at the end of the afternoon.

TRANSFORMATIONS – October 17, 2010

This concert looks at music that somehow experiences change in the course of a piece.  Obviously this would be true of a theme and variation (Variants) or what amounts to a Gilbert & Sullivan mashup (Pineapple Poll).  But change is in the air as Holsinger gives a melody his treatment (On an American Spiritual), Ticheli puts cataclysm in music (Vesuvius), and most subtly as John Barnes Chance lets his swan song unfold (Elegy).

On an American Spiritual – David Holsinger (for tubist and arranger Elizabeth Laberge)

Variants on a Medieval Tune – Norman Dello Joio

Vesuvius – Frank Ticheli (for chemistry whiz and multi-sax player Jason Pflueger)

Elegy – John Barnes Chance

Pineapple Poll – Sir Arthur Sullivan, arr. Charles Mackerras (for CUWE president and trumpet-trombone-sax player Paul Lerner)


Randall Thompson (1899-1984) was one of America’s pre-eminent choral composers during his lifetime.  He was also noted educator, holding teaching posts at Wellesley College, the Curitis Institute, and Harvard University, among others. His notable students included Samuel Adler, Leo Kraft, and Leonard Bernstein.

Of all of his many choral works, Alleluia stands out as the most popular.  It was originally written on a commission from Serge Koussevitsky for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood in 1940.  Koussevitsky expected a fanfare for voices, something joyous and celebratory. Yet Thompson did not feel this was appropriate given the recent events in Europe, including the fall of France to Nazi Germany. So he responded instead with the plaintive, introverted Alleluia.  He called his work “a very sad piece. The word ‘Alleluia’ has so many possible interpretations. The music in my particular Alleluia cannot be made to sound joyous. It is a slow, sad piece, and…here it is comparable to the Book of Job, where it is written, ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.'”

More information about Randall Thompson can be found on Wikipedia, Thorpe Music Company,, and Harvard Magazine.

His Alleluia is described on Wikipedia.  Someone else also has a resource page on the piece with some great historical background – check it out!

The band version of Alleluia appeared in 1993.  It was arranged by Lewis Buckley, director of the US Coast Guard Band.

Band version:

And the original choral version:

Jaromir Weinberger (1896-1967) was a Czech composer who emigrated to the United States and eventually became a US citizen.  His opera Schwanda the Bagpiper is his most famous contribution to the standard repertoire.  While the opera was wildly popular following its premiere in 1927, today it is all but forgotten, and its concert suite, Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper, is performed much more frequently than the opera itself.

As a side note, this opera has a fantastic German name: Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeifer.

Jaromir Weinberger on wikipedia.

Extensive article on Weinberger at the Orel Foundation, a group dedicated to uncovering neglected works of 20th century composers.

Description and plot synopsis of Schwanda the Bagpiper at

Link to the Naxos CD recording of the opera, as well as a thoughtful article about it and the composer.

Finally, some videos.  First, William D. Revelli and the University of Michigan Symphony Band from 1965:

Then a Cincinnati Pops version under Erich Kunzel.  Be aware that it’s slightly different in form from what we’re playing and is in a different key with one different modulation in the fugue as well.  And of course it’s for orchestra.

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.


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.

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

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!

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

Nelson himself provides a program note for Homage to Machaut, part of his 1983 Medieval Suite:

Medieval Suite was written in homage to three great masters of the Middle Ages: Leonin (middle 12th century), Perotin (c. 1155- 1200), and Machaut (c. 1300-1377). These are neither transcriptions of their works nor attempts at emulating their respective styles. Rather, the music served as a sort of launching pad for three pieces which draw on some of the stylistic characteristics of music from that period, e.g., repetition of rhythmic patterns or modes, modules of sound, proportions that produce octaves, fourths and fifths, use of Gregorian chant, syncopation, long pedal points where a sustained tone regulates melodic progression.

Homage to Machaut evokes the stately, gently syncopated and flowing sounds of this master of choral writing. The movement consists of a statement with two repetitions, each with different instrumentation. It closes with the same chant and instrumental textures which opened the suite.

Homage to Machaut was first performed March 18, 1983 at the National Conference of the College Band Directors National Association by the Western Michigan University Symphonic Band, Richard J. Suddendorf, conductor.

An unnamed band led by an unnamed conductor in a fine version of this piece:

Homage to Machaut at the Wind Repertory Project.

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

Guillaume de Machaut on Wikipedia.

Now for some context, an original Machaut vocal work:

French composer Paul Dukas (1865-1935) was one of the leading orchestrators and composition teachers of his day.  He studied at the Paris Conservatory where he became friends with fellow composer Claude Debussy.  He wrote prolifically for piano, orchestra, and the opera stage, but his perfectionist tendencies led him to destroy or withdraw many of his works.

Dukas’s L’apprenti sorcier (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) is one of those iconic pieces that it seems like everyone knows, largely thanks to Disney’s treatment of it in Mickey Mouse’s segment of 1940’s Fantasia.  It was a hit with orchestras and bands even before the mouse got hold of it.  Dukas wrote the original orchestral piece in 1897, and Frank Winterbottom created the band version in 1923 for Boosey & Hawkes.  It is based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem of the same name (Der Zauberlehrling in Goethe’s native German).  The story of the poem was replicated very closely in the Fantasia segment.  In it, the sorcerer’s apprentice gleefully brings a broom to life to draw a bath for him while his master has stepped out.  Once the bath is full, he realizes he does not know the magic that will stop the broom.  In an ever-wetter panic, he hacks the broom in 2 with an axe, only to have both pieces come back to life and continue the deluge of water.  Out of options, he seeks his master’s help and all is once again right with the world.

The famous Disney version is edited in several places.  But luckily for us, the Koninklijke Harmoniekapel Delft (a Dutch wind band) has put together a video that uses the Fantasia footage and puts all of the original material back in.  AND it’s the same band version that we’re playing!  Watch:

To compare, here’s a Japanese orchestra under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy doing the unedited version with no mouse:

Paul Dukas on Wikipedia.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on Wikipedia.

Goethe’s original poem in side-by-side original German and English translation.

This piece is a Senior Choice for clarinetist and world traveler Alicia Samuel, CUWE class of 2011.

Finally, I fully admit that I’m purposely making no mention of the new-ish live-action Sorcerer’s Apprentice movie.  I fail to see what Nicholas Cage can add to this discussion.