Legends

Shulamit Ran

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Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Like the finest of music, certain words in every language seem to have multiple layers of meanings, associations, interpretations. One such word is legend, which, to my mind, seems to evoke a wide range of images and possibilities. On the most obvious level there is, of course, the idea of a story being told. Let it be said at the outset that my composition "Legends" tells no specific extra-musical tale, though the sense of story telling is, perhaps, part of the work's general aura. The notion of timelessness - something which transcends the boundaries of past, present, and future; part of a distant yesteryear which, somehow, lives onwards - is another association my mind makes with the word. And then there are expressions such as ?legendary figure,? ?a legend in one's own time? - expressions evoking a feeling of the heroic, the larger than life, a tale both familiar (because it has been recounted again and again), yet distant. Mystery and wonder are, to me, part of the imaginary landscape of this word. In writing this composition all of these allusions, and more, have sought expression in music, hence the title.

A step-by-step description of a given work's progress never struck me as the most helpful way of coming to terms with a first hearing. On its broadest formal level, though, it is probably worthwhile noting that in the course of its roughly twenty minutes Legends does come back eventually, full circle, to its opening thematic materials. Most important of these is an emphatic, almost incantational melody made up of four notes (E, G, F-sharp, A-sharp), initially appearing about a minute or so into the piece and first presented by the cello section and a solo horn. Of course a recapitulatory statement of thematic materials is no more a true return than the possibility of going back in time. In much of my music, the idea of the cyclical - as in the seasons - versus the inevitability of the forward flow of time, two major currents at the source of all of life and nature, are inextricably bound.

In addition to what might be called a first group of themes appearing early in the piece, there is also a subsequent, contrasting group of themes, initially emphasizing three trombones and later juxtaposed against high, insistent, raw woodwinds. There are developmental sections followed by, at the beginning of the work's second movement, a slow, static stretch of music based on eight closely clustered notes (B-flat, C-sharp, D-sharp, E, F, F-sharp, G, A), where various instruments alternate in brief solo passages which gradually build up to an intense climax in the strings; a transitional, lightly syncopated section with coldly glittering piano and celesta cascades; and then, finally, the aforementioned return-coda. Does this sound almost like the design of a sonata? Or a symphonic first movement? Perhaps, except that this one casts its large, irregularly proportioned shadow over the entire two-movement structure, purposely making the climactic ending of the first movement something less than a true resolution of tensions. Only by the return, late in the second movement, of the early four-note theme, is there a sense of a journey heading towards its conclusion. The very final phrase, though, gently trails off into the distance, dissipating as mysteriously as it began...

"Legends" was written in honor of the centennials of both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the University of Chicago, two great institutions with which it has been my privilege and honor to be associated. It is dedicated to my husband, Avi.

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Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the AT&T Foundation and Meet-the-Composer Orchestra Residencies Program for the centennials of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the University of Chicago, Orchestra Hall, Chicago.
Composition Date 1992-1993, rev. 2001
Duration 00:22:00
Orchestration 3(Picc./A.Fl.) 2(E.H.) 3(EbCl./2B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.)- 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 2; Timp. 5Perc. Pno. Cel. Hp. Str.
Premiere October 7-9, 1993. Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, Orchestra Hall, Chicago.

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