To Awaken a God
Kris Peysen Composer
For full orchestra
This piece is my master’s thesis. At U of L, it was generally expected that the thesis for a master’s composition student be a piece for a large ensemble, in particular orchestra. I suppose I could have tried to go against that if I really wanted to, but I didn’t, as that aligned well with my goals at the time. I felt like it was finally time for me to write an orchestra piece. I had of course arranged several things for orchestra for various classes and projects by that point, but I hadn’t yet written anything original for the ensemble. It was, I felt, the last thing I had left.
I had fun with this piece. In some ways, writing for orchestra is more challenging than writing for a chamber ensemble; but in other ways, it can actually be easier. This is simply because in an orchestra piece, if you need an instrument to do something or fulfill a role, there’s almost always something available. It’s very easy to get a variety of textures or colors out of an orchestra; you have “the full box of crayons,” so to speak. In a chamber piece, you’re more limited in your options, which can force you to do some creative scoring if you want a particular color or texture that won’t come easily with the ensemble you’re working with. So in a way, finally writing a piece for orchestra was very liberating.
I don’t want to imply, however, that this piece wasn’t hard work, because it was. And at times, all those empty staves staring back at me from the computer screen could be very intimidating. In fact, I experimented in composing in short score for a time, but ultimately abandoned this method. I think I’m just wired to want to write directly for the instruments that I intend.
Regarding the “concept” of the piece, I also took a more free approach than I usually do. I simply started with a single melody, and decided to follow that lead and see where it would take me. I was thinking something along the lines of a Sibelius symphony – nothing musically specific, but more the general idea of “organically spinning out from initially small material.” As I composed more of the piece, the overall form steadily took shape. Eventually I realized that what I was heading for was a giant tutti “restatement” of the opening theme. I think this worked well. As I got to this point, I also began thinking of a somewhat radical idea: what if I ended the piece directly on the climax? I.e., no “declining action” or “release” of any sort. That’s not something you hear much in classical music. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. And then I pretty much had to do it. I think it’s very interesting and I’m very curious to hear it live. Hopefully sometime in the near future.
I also think I did a good job of tying the orchestration into the form of the piece – more specifially, “how many” instruments are playing at any given time. I sort of build up and “tease” at full tuttis several times throughout the piece, but don’t truly get there until the climax. A lot of the piece is more sparse, but I think this makes the writing at the end all the more powerful. All in all, I think the piece is a good “mix” between small groups of instruments playing, full tutti, and everything in between. I generally don’t like it in orchestra pieces when the composer orchestrates too heavily too much of the time; it tends to lessen the color variety, as well as potentially do damage to musical clarity, something I find important. It’s my own personal preference, to be sure, but it’s one I certainly exercised when composing this piece.
May 4, 2018: University of Iowa (reading session)