Of Oblivion (2019)
For wind ensemble
Few artists have been able to create landscapes so vast and surreal, and yet so believable, as John Martin (1789-1854). Cracks of lightning, an opening of the heavens, and natural (or supernatural) disaster are so commonplace in his paintings that they feel as if they are contemporaries of twenty first century summer blockbusters rather than nineteenth century visual arts. These scenes are made more massive and dramatic when contrasted against the dwarfed human figures that almost never seem to take center stage. In particular, Martin’s six-foot-tall work Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion (currently located in the Northeastern section of the St. Louis Art Museum) features one lone man clinging to a precipice, engulfed by a landscape of red mountain, red sky, volcanoes, waterfalls, and storms, with bottomless darkness beneath him and a parting-of-the-clouds above him.
As a composer, I’ve wanted to try to create a musical equivalent of Sadak since the first time I saw the painting, and I believe there is no sonic medium that could portray the same levels of scale, drama, and strength that Martin so often employed in his work better than the modern American Wind Symphony. Though these ensembles almost exclusively operate out of universities today, I believe that they can play on-par with, if not outperform, many symphony orchestras of the collegiate or even professional levels. Plus, with brass sections often exceeding fifteen players and full pools of percussionists to employ, these groups can produce A LOT of sound.
It was through Dr. Curran Prendergast’s encouragement that I decided to finally try my hand at writing for full wind ensemble. At first, we had discussed having the completed project performed under his baton, but as time went on, he suggested that I direct the premiere myself as part of my graduate conducting recital at Truman State University. The work received its premiere on March 29, 2020.
Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion was the very first of Martin’s characteristically dramatic and gradious paintings, and Of Oblivion would be the very first of my writings for a full-scale collegiate level wind symphony, comprised of forty different parts. Furthermore, Martin was twenty-three years old when he completed his work in 1812, and I was the exact same age when I completed mine in 2019. The theme of a young man’s inaugural attempt at creating a work of such a grand scale was another main factor that made me want to draw from Martin’s creation for inspiration. As mentioned before, the key factor in Martin’s style is an overarching tone of apocalypticism that extends past Sadak and into his other famous works including Belshazzar's Feast, The Great Day of His Wrath, The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Satan Presiding at the Infernal Council, just to name a few. This tone was particularly attractive to me as I felt my greatest strength as a conductor was in presiding over large, heavy, and serious music. The wind band medium has some fantastic examples of this tone (the brass-only sections of Movement V of Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy, for example), but my hope is that Of Oblivion can become an exercise for conductors and players in pacing and endurance, as I've intended for it to maintain its intensity with only momentary pause for over ten minutes.