Jennifer Higdon: All Things Majestic
Composed in 2011 from a commission by the Grand Teton Music Festival, Jennifer Higdon’s orchestral suite All Things Majestic is a provocative four movement work. All Things Majestic was premiered at Walk Festival Hall on August 19th, 2011. The music tells of some of the majestic parks in America:
“All Things Majestic is a tribute to not only the festival and it’s home, the Tetons, but also the grandeur and majesty of all of our parks.
In this work, each movement represents a musical postcard: the first, the grandeur of the mountain ranges, with their size and sheer boldness, and the solidity with which they fill the ground and air; the second, the lakes and the exquisite mirror-quality of reflection upon their serene surfaces; the third, the rapid flow, and unpredictability of the rivers and streams…ever-changing and powerful, yet at times, gentle; the final movement pictures the experience of being in the parks, as in a vast cathedral…the beauty of small details such as flowers and plants, within the larger picture of forests and fields…every part contributing to the sheer majesty.”
Set into four separate movements, All Things Majestic starts its imagery from the names of the movements, right through to the music itself:
I) Teton Range
II) String Lake
III) Snake River
Movement I – Teton Range
The grandeur of the mountain ranges, with their size and sheer boldness, and the solidity with which they fill the ground and air.
The opening movement is led by the brass section throughout. The bold grandeur of brass instruments reflects the character of the mountain ranges that Higdon is trying to get across to the listener. The movement is not all just brass fanfares. Higdon masterfully intertwines peaceful and reflective sections to oppose the louder parts. Often led by the upper winds, these serene interludes reminds us of the beauty of these mountain ranges.
The strings act as the filing in the ground as they keep the root of the music firmly grounded. From shimmering accompaniments to bold melodies, the strings act as the solidity of these mountains. The movement ends as the orchestra begins to erupt in a monumental climax that shakes the very core of the earth. The grandeur of the mountains is led by the brass and strings, whilst the percussion accentuate with the crashing of cymbals. Higdon’s use of dissonance here creates unique orchestral colour which is what makes the ending even more exciting.
Movement II – String Lake
The lakes and the exquisite mirror-quality of reflection upon their serene surfaces.
The picturesque second movement is led by the strings. The slow and lyrical movement gives a different impression from the opening movement. Higdon’s harmonic language is quite straightforward in this movement, with the atmosphere of the work being at the forefront. The reflection of the water is represented through repetition of melodic kernels that are passed around the strings.
A solo violin emerges as the strings begin to start parting ways, but all the time keeping the beauty of the music at bay. This movement ends quietly with a tinge of nostalgia in the air as the strings begin to slowly die away into silence.
Movement III – Snake River
The rapid flow, and unpredictability of the rivers and streams…ever-changing and powerful, yet at times, gentle.
Fast moving winds and muted brass open this exciting third movement. The rapid flow and unpredictability of the rivers comes across straight away. The winds play fast flourishes in unison which lead to powerful interjections from the brass and percussion. The pizzicato strings add a new dimension to the timbre of this movement.
A brief celeste/harp/vibraphone interlude quickly brings the music to a serene halt. There is a touch of magic in this movement with the twinkling water glistening in the sunshine as the underneath poses a much different view. A brash brass and percussion interlude leads to the flourishing winds finishing this short movement.
Movement IV – Cathedrals
The final movement pictures the experience of being in the parks, as in a vast cathedral…the beauty of small details such as flowers and plants, within the larger picture of forests and fields…every part contributing to the sheer majesty.
Opening with the celeste, piccolo flute and harp, this shimmering opening is serene, but mysterious. The small wind details represent the flowers and plants seen in nature, with the brass representing the sights of forests and fields. Higdon employs the full orchestra in this movement to create a range of different musical landscapes.
The fluctuation between the shimmering opening material and the more majestic material creates a truly exciting finale movement for this already picturesque suite of music. Through various trials and tribulations the final movement ends with a fugue started by the brass. This leads to an almighty crash from the bass drum which ends this piece powerfully.
Jennifer Higdon’s All Things Majestic tells a series of musical paintings about a range of thrilling landscapes. From the motion of water, to the splendour of the mountain ranges, it is fair to say that this work is packed full of musical delights. All Things Majestic showcases an orchestras ability to be collectively virtuosic. Higdon writes deceptively difficult music throughout, each for different effects. This is one of Higdon’s most descriptive and engaging works.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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