Craig H. Russell (b.1951):
Rhapsody for Horn and Orchestra Middle Earth Gate City
The Rhapsody for Horn and Orchestra had its genesis in thefall of 1998. Commissioned by the San Luis Obispo Symphony and dedicated toRichard Todd, my idea was a five-movement scheme that would explore differentflavors and varied styles. The form would be a vessel of \alternatingsiblings," where the first and third movements would be sisters, and the secondand fourth movements would be close brothers. The final movement would be abrisk race that would blast us forward in one frenetic, breathless run to thefinish line.
Thefirst movement, Morning's Decisions, and third movement, Wistful Musings, areslow-to-moderate movements with striking similarities in mood and form. Eachpays spiritual homage to Samuel Barber's exquisite Violin Concerto, and share amelodic motive or two. Both also have three main theme groups, each of which isradically different in meter and style. Thus, each movement is a tripartitevessel that begins to take shape as we hear three contrasting ideas that arefirst presented, then developed, and eventually restated. Those two movementsare sisters. The other musical siblings, the second and fourth movements, havean audible family resemblance that is apparent even from their titles. Thesecond, Dizzy Bird, is a straight-ahead bebop jazz chart that tries to capturethe infectious energy and originality of those amazing bop tunes by DizzyGillespie and Charlie "Bird" Parker. The same effect permeates the "brother"movement, Tito Machito, which is constructed of an ostinato that builds inintensity. This title similarly tips its hat to two jazz greats, in this case Machito (a founder of Latinjazz) and the incomparable Tito Puente, who was the embodiment of salsa. Inspite of audible family ties between the two pairs of movements, each nevertheless has its own identity. Justas Barber's Violin Concerto ends with an ungodly fast dash to the end, so myconcerto is a merciless perpetuo moto titled Flash. The tempo is "at the speedof light -- or as fast as possible".
TheRhapsody for Horn and Orchestra had its premi?¿re in San Luis Obispo, Californiain March 2000, with Richard Todd and the San Luis Obispo Symphony, MichaelNowak conducting. One year later, the Rhapsody received its East Coast premi?¿reat Carnegie Hall on 25th April, 2001, once again with the San Luis ObispoSymphony.
Thebirth of Middle Earth similarly came as an unanticipated commission in 1995.Conductors Carol Kersten and Fred Lau asked if I would write a piece for theJunior Strings (a special strings ensemble of the San Luis Obispo YouthSymphony) in celebration of their 30th Anniversary. As my wife, Astrid, my boysPeter and Loren, and I were working our way through Tolkien's The Hobbit andhis trilogy The Lord of the Rings, I decided to put together a short suite ofseven movements, each of which has to do with those novels. The movements were: 1) Frodo Leaves theShire; 2) Gimli, the Dwarf; 3) Galadriel & Her Elvin Mirror; 4) Gollum; 5) Gandalf: The White Rider; 6) Orcs& Ring Wraiths; and 7) Frodo & Company Return. The whole work wascomposed in three days. I tried to be brief, and whenever possible, funny orclever. Gimli sounds like a rugged Irish tune. Galadriel is lush and romantic. Gollum is composed of random"gulps" made by the string basses, creating a swallowing sound. In Gandalf, thepiece is divided in half with the second half of the piece being the exactreplication of the first half but flipped upside down and backwards. Themovement about the monstrous Ring Wraiths and the clumsy, ill-mannered, brutish,and slovenly Orcs is performed by the instrumentalists playing approximatepitches. I have the piano player play one brutish passage holding tennis ballsand banging away. The last movement has snippets of Gimli, Galadriel, andGandalf all layered over Frodo's initial theme. Thus all the heroes mentionedin my suite weave their way back home.
Twoyears after the premi?¿re, I took the original version and re-orchestrated itfor symphonic orchestra adding two additional movements: Shelob's Lair and Striderand the Crowning of Aragorn. Shelob's Lair has bizarre instrumental effectsthat replicate the clicking sounds of a terrifying giant spider ready toconsume her prey. Strider begins with rapid leaps that traverse enormousmusical territory, just like a character who traverses wide expanses of terrainalmost instantly. This same character (both in the plot and in the musicalmaterial) is soon discovered to be a king, and this "leaping melody" reappearsas a regal coronation by the movement's end.
Thefinal work on this disk is the second movement of my Symphony No. 2, AmericanScenes, which is dedicated to my parents John Henry and Catherine QuillinRussell. This movement, Gate City: Methodist Hymn is a clear homage to mymother, her inspired faith, and her enchanting home town of Gate City,Virginia. The back-porch sound of a country fiddle begins this American reveriethat spiritually is modeled on those home-spun Wesley hymns that fill Methodisthymnals. The piece then unfolds with a silent prayer in the middle beforereturning to the opening tune and the Appalachian beauty of this mountainvillage.
Craig H. Russell