Earth, Water, Sun, Wind - Symphony for Band

Earth, Water, Sun, Wind was commissioned by the Northern Arizona University School of Performing Arts for their Centennial Celebration. The first performance as given by the NAU Wind Symphony, conducted by Dr. Patricia Hoy, on 3rd October 1999.

The form of Earth, Water, Sun, Wind was decided once the title had been chosen. I wanted a four-movement work and the unifying theme of these four elements gave me a frame within which to work. The music varies from being purely descriptive of the movements’ titles to specific sound painting; Earth, for example, is pure music and non-programmatic whereas Sun attempts to paint a specific sound picture. At the time of writing I had not visited Arizona but I had in my mind a State which is certainly close to the elements and wanted this piece to concern itself with man’s relationship with these monumental aspects of nature.

Earth

Earth opens with a rising theme from the middle of the band which introduces a rhythmic figure which is to recur throughout the movement. A series of accented chords leads to a syncopated theme from the woodwind and an expressive melody over a running quaver figure. A further theme in bare fifths leads to a repeat of earlier material before the appearance of a strong tune from horns, trombones and saxes. This is repeated by the trumpets and leads to a climax before the earlier woodwind themes are restated and extended. A further climax is reached and the music then relaxes until the opening rising theme returns. The ‘bare fifth’ theme is then restated by the full band and extended until it leads to a repeat of the recurring rhythmic figure and the movement crashes to a close.

Water

I had specific ‘water pictures’ in my mind throughout the writing of this movement although I would prefer listeners to conjure up their own images rather than be influenced by mine. The delicate opening figures accompany two flutes who introduce a gushing figure before trumpets change the mood with a perky, rather eccentric, theme. This is repeated by oboes and english horn before the horns and trombones introduce a more sinister idea. This leads to a triumphal brass tune which reaches a climax and introduces a sonorous legato theme from the middle of the band under bubbling woodwind figures. The gushing figure returns to lead to a full-band version of the perky trumpet theme and the music subsides to introduce:

Sun

Sun concerns itself not with musical form but is intended to describe the searing heat of the Arizona desert. A synthesizer simulates heat haze and accompanies piccolo and high bassoon. The full band enters with a series of chords symbolising the unbearable heat of the midday sun while trumpets describe buzzing insects. Heavy low chords lead to a lonely trumpet tune until the bassoon and synthesizer return to close the movement.

Wind

The final movement juxtaposes the negative and positive aspects of wind. The ominous opening suggests an approaching storm and florid woodwind figures describe wind’s destructive side. But a legato oboe theme changes the mood (I had in mind here a flying kite, harnessing the positive power of wind). This theme is taken up by the whole band but the music continues to fluctuate between images of fear and exhilaration until the opening ominous figures return. This time the approaching storm indeed arrives and again the music continues to change its mood between awe of the destructive power of nature and respect for its magnificence. The music recapitulates until a final apocalypse is reached but the wind finally dies down and the movement ends in positive mood.