Malleus

for Orchestra

Douglas Buchanan

Rental
Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Harsh economic circumstances, ongoing conflict, and zeolotry create volatile living conditions for any community. Such was the social reality of late-17th century New England. The aforementioned tensions, combined with preexisting jealousies and a host of unfortunate illnesses, left residents of one particular village looking for scapegoats. Ultimately, this resulted in hundreds of falsified accusations, scores of unjust imprisonments, and, during the summer of 1692, the killing of twenty men and women. Each charge was the same: witchcraft.

The Salem Witch Trials, as the proceedings are now known, were tragdies of injustice that bespeak the resultant cruelty of indiscriminate, hate-enflamed judgment. Three hundred years after the trials, a small area of Salem?s central cemetery was portioned off to serve as a memorial to those who died during the Puritanical inquest; twenty granite benches, each engraved with an innocent?s name, line the low walls.

It was to this somber place of remembrance that my wife and I journeyed in late autumn of 2009. Returning home after several performances on the East Coast, I was drawn to visit Salem and the memorial. Admittedly, this was due in part ot outright curiosity: much of Salem seems almost to revel in this link to supposed occultist practice, and it was, after all, almost Halloween Primarily, though, I wanted to see a piece of my family?s history: two of the stones were engraved with the names of my (nine-times-great) aunts. During the trials, three sisters were accused, and two found guilty. One, Rebecca Towne Nurse, was hanged on July 19th, 1692; her sister, Mary Towne Eastey, was lead to Gallows Hill on September 22nd of that same year.

Such acts of cruelty are never easy to process, be they past or present. Malleus served as a musical means to come to terms with what I felt as I learned more about the trials. The title takes its name from the Malleus Maleficarum, literally the ?Hammer of the Evil Ones?. A text written in 15th-century Germany by the Catholic Inquisitor Heinrigh Kramer, instructing witch-hunters in the identification and prosecution of ?witches?. Hammer-blows figure prominently in the orchestral texture, striking amidst the multiplicity of instrumental lines. The increasing activity?perhaps an attempt flee, perhaps the piling of accusations?culminates in a high scream, thinning out to reveal a few melodic threads stated by the clarinets. Their reminiscence seems to parallel the words of John Greenleaf Whitter, inscribed on Rebecca Nurse?s memorial:

O Christian Martyr who for Truth could die
When all about the Owned the hideous lie!
The world, redeemed from superstition?s sway,
Is breathing freer for thy sake today.

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Additional Information

Composition Date 2010
Duration 00:11:00
Orchestration 3(Picc.) 2 2(2 dbl. B.Cl.) 2 - 4 2 3(B.Tbn.) 0; Timp. 2Perc. Str.