Songs Without Words

Five Mood Pieces for Large Wind Ensemble

Dan Welcher

Performing Ensemble: Wind Ensemble
Publisher: Elkan-Vogel, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Since the very nature of a piece titled “Songs Without Words” would be destroyed by too many words about the music, it seems best to let the movement titles speak for themselves. Mendelssohn’s celebrated set of piano pieces in this genre established a precedent for short, mood-oriented works with simple titles (although in Felix’s case, it was the publisher who invented the titles). I began this composition by imagining five moods that could be portrayed in wind, brass, and percussion colors – then expanded on the idea by linking the separate motives together in the fifth “song.” The effect would be one of looking at separate elements of a personality, then looking at the whole person.

“Manic” was originally titled “Almost Too Happy” (like Schumann’s “Almost Too Serious” in Kinderszenen). It is very short, and over-the-top in terms of energy. The trumpets’ opening motive is marked “barking, like vulgar laughter,” which is answered by the trombones’ flutter-tongue growls and snarls. It’s over before it has a chance to burn itself out.

“Reflective” was inspired by a series of days in which it never stopped raining. The motion-driven craziness of the previous movement is completely taken over by an introspective mood, and the music follows an unchanging metric pattern of 5/8, 2/4, and 3/4 bars in a specific order. The effect is somewhat like sitting in a Zen garden, listening to the tiny waterfall.

“Giddy” is pure silliness and good humor. A rollicking 6/8 tune appears in low reeds and euphonium, accompanied by swinging 16th notes in the upper woodwinds. A trio section in the center allows the brass and timpani to indulge in some vaudevillian high jinks. But as the music gallops to what feels like a happy climax, it is suddenly interrupted…

“Stunned” is what happens in life when we aren’t looking. The carefree mood is shattered, almost like running into a brick wall, and the music plunges deeply into tragic E( minor, moving “with glacial slowness: in held notes. At length, a melody in the solo saxophone mourns some unspoken loss.

The finale is “Confident,” but it doesn’t start quite that way. Emerging form the unsettled final chord of “Stunned,” a repeated chord begins tapping at our consciousness, almost as if trying to pull us out of our despair. A trumpet intones a hopeful tune in C major as the music becomes faster, and more and more assured. When it has hit full speed, the music breaks… and we hear the opening bars of “Manic” again. This time, though, it doesn’t stay there… “Reflective” is heard briefly, and then “Giddy.” The personality is re-assembling itself after the tragedy. When the main theme of “Confident” returns again (marked “stately, in full command”) we sense a wholeness and a healthy sprit. The piece ends in a buoyant loud of optimism.

Songs Without Words was commission by the College Band Directors’ National Association in 2000. It is dedicated to my dear friend, Jerome Shedd.
—Dan Welcher

Available on Rental

Scores & Parts

Songs Without Words - Full Score - Large

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the College Band Directors National Association
Composition Date 2001
Duration 15:00
Orchestration 3(Picc.) 2 4(b.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) 2AltoSax. 1Ten.Sax. 1Bar.Sax. - 4 3 3 1 Euph.; Timp. 4Perc. Pno.(dbl. Cel.) Cb.
Premiere February 15, 2001


I. Manic
II. Reflective
III. Giddy
IV. Stunned
V. Confident

Score Preview