Michael Torke: Javelin


Michael Torke’s (1961-) 1994 work Javelin came after a commission from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympics. They were about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Torke took on the challenge and the work received its premiere on 8th September, 1994 by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The work has become one of Torke’s most popular works, with the 1997 wind orchestra version also being very popular.

The work was also performed at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics, which also took place in Atlanta. The work is only about nine minutes in duration, however the fast speed of the piece sees the music fly past quickly.

The Music

Javelin is in one movement and is primarily set in the key of A major. Although not stated, the work behaves as an Overture would in terms of structure and development. It is often used as a concert opener. Torke commented on the three things he had in mind when composing Javelin:


“The orchestra had to be used as a virtuosic instrument. The use of triads should be present along the score and the music had to be thematic.”


Opening with a fast-moving pair of flutes, the music rushes off between the winds. The orchestra grow in dynamic and the first big fanfare is heard. The strings then take the main theme of the work as the rest of the orchestra decorate the melody with cascading scalic figures and fast counter-melodies.

The swift movement from the upper strings and winds resembles the fast moving javelins as they are thrown. This theme worked a treat for the opening of the Summer Olympics, where javelin is one of the main field events. The work is 591 bars long, however this doesn’t feel the case due to the fast and bouncy nature of the music.

The work is tonal throughout, which has led to some critics comparing Javelin to the likes of John Williams. Critics have also commented on the lack of modernism in the work, saying that it resembles classical composers more than contemporary composers. Either way, Javelin is a peppy and joyful work that exudes excitement throughout.

Final Thoughts

Michael Torke’s Javelin is a joyous work that was commissioned for a celebratory cause, and it certainly fits that bill well. Torke’s use of each individual instrument makes it intricate and mixed with the pacey tempo, Javelin is a truly exciting work for orchestra.


Ⓒ Alex Burnsv

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