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Pendulum New Music

The CU-Wind Symphony performs Joseph Schwantner’s “From a Dark Millenium” on the Pendulum New Music concert series.

In 1980, the Mid-American Conference Band Directors Association commissioned Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph Schwantner to write a follow-up work to his landmark ...and the mountains rising nowhere of 1977. The resulting work, From a Dark Millennium, received its premiere by the University of Northern Illinois Wind Ensemble in 1981. A re-working of a material from his chamber work, Music of Amber, this marked the only occasion in which Schwantner borrowed earlier material for a subsequent work. Both works draw inspiration from Schwantner’s poetry:

deep forests
a play of shadows,
most ancient murmurings
from a dark millennium,
the trembling fragrance
of the music of amber…

From a Dark Millennium has come to be seen as the second movement in a trilogy of sorts for wind ensemble including …and the mountains rising nowhere (1977), and In evening’s stillness… (1996) – bookends to From a Dark Millennium (1981). Although Schwantner does not consider From a Dark Millennium to be programmatic, he does admit that, “the mysterious and shadowy atmosphere ... springs from images drawn from a brief original poem that forms the poetic backdrop for the work. The poem helped to stimulate, provoke, and enhance the flow of my musical ideas.”

As a composition, From a Dark Millennium is a model of economy, spun out from the material heard in the first measure: a re-ordered “octatonic scale” [F, F#, Ab, A, B, C, D, Eb] -- a scale that ascends by alternating half-steps and whole-steps. The work features several of Schwantner’s “hallmark techniques,” the most apparent of which are a prominent, almost solisitc piano, and several large-scale percussion parts.

Program Note from State University of New York, Potsdam, Crane Wind Ensemble concert program, 14 February 2018