Composition Department

LAMENTATIONS (pour la fin du monde) (2006)

Eugene Rousseau, Saxophones
The University of North Texas Symphony Orchestra
David Itkin, Conductor

In seven movements played without pause [16:15]

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In the years since the start of the new millennium, the world has witnessed a seemingly unending series of disasters…both natural and man-made. Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, famines and wars have exacted a horrific human toll, causing people from all faiths to declare that the end of the world is near. Although the revelations of St. John the Divine have obviously not come to pass, it is undeniable that a pall has been cast over the earth and that a universal sense of grief and sorrow prevails.

Lamentations (pour la fin du monde) was written in response to the many tragic events of recent years. The title makes reference to two well-known compositions. The first is Olivier Messiaen’s Quatour pour la fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time), written in 1941 during another period in history when it seemed as if there would be “time no longer” and that the trumpet of the seventh angel had sounded. Messiaen’s ghost haunts virtually every page of the score for Lamentations, and in the fourth movement, I pay direct homage to him.

The second piece that served as a source of inspiration for my own composition was Darius Milhaud’s La Creation du monde (The Creation of the World). In Milhaud’s ballet, the world is born wildly out of a seething, inchoate mass, and the overall tone of the work is decidedly optimistic. However, it was not Milhaud’s programme – or his eclectic musical language – that most influenced the writing of Lamentations. Rather, it was his haunting, poignant treatment of the saxophone, an instrument that can convey loss and sadness perhaps better than any other.

Lamentations consists of seven movements played without pause. Movements I, III, V and VII are more episodic, more “fantasia-like” than the even-numbered movements, which are more cohesively structured. It could be argued that movements II, IV and VI form the three central sections of the work and that they are separated by free, transitional passages leading to and departing from them.

Each of the movements of Lamentations draws its materials from “Der Abschied” (“The Farewell”), the final song of Gustav Mahler’s cycle, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). “Der Abschied” is one of Mahler’s most heart-wrenching and transcendently beautiful works. The music is so powerful, Mahler felt certain that listeners would entertain thoughts of suicide upon hearing the movement. His song, a setting of a Chinese poem translated into German, describes the death of the day, when the sun sets and the world falls asleep. I employ the same melodic motive in Lamentations as that used to unify all of the songs in Das Lied von der Erde: (c)-e-g-a. In my piece, as in Das Lied, the motive appears throughout in many different guises (backwards, in mirror form, with intervallic alterations, etc.). These pitches constitute the concluding chord of Mahler’s work and, through a modified quotation of the final measures from “Der Abschied,” of my own as well.

In addition to the aforementioned allusions to the music of Mahler, Messiaen and Milhaud, Lamentations contains a self-reference as well. In the third movement, I quote the opening section of my Shadows: Four Dirge-Nocturnes for orchestra (1990). This earlier work also uses elements from “Der Abschied” as its basis, and its inclusion in Lamentations seemed both appropriate and natural.

Lamentations is dedicated to the superb saxophonist, Eugene Rousseau. It was written with the generous assistance of a grant from the “New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Program” at Indiana University, Bloomington.

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