Le prophète du Seigneur

for Bass Trombone Solo, Trombone Choir, Organ, and Timpani

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I wrote Le prophéte du Seigneur between May 28th and June 9th of 2019. I had been promising Jacobs School of Music trombone faculty member Carl Lenthe a work for his trombone ensemble for at least five years (having written a Sonata and a Concerto for him in the last decade). Having caught up on some other commitments earlier in 2019, I was finally able to begin thinking about the work. However, I really had no sense of what kind of a piece I would write until I viewed a series of videos that Lenthe had put together for a sabbatical project based on the Concerto after Mendelssohn that I had written for him in 2017. In one of these videos, Lenthe interviews several of his students concerning their reaction to this Concerto, and two of them mentioned their particular affection for the combination of trombone and organ of the several accompaniments I wrote for that work. Hearing them mention this set the wheels turning in my mind, as I recalled how much I liked the version of my Concerto that I had made for that combination. How even more majestic and noble, I mused, would be a trombone choir with organ! Very quickly I began getting ideas for such a piece, but I also kept thinking about the possibility of one of the trombonists being set apart from the others in soloistic fashion. For some reason, this idea also led to that of having the piece portray an unspecified Israelite prophet from the Old Testament era. This work would then represent my attempt to portray musically a portion of Scripture, II Chronicles 36:15-16, which reads, "The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion upon his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of the God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy." The dramatic possibilities of such a musical portrait seemed obvious to me, and ideas were coming so quickly that I could hardly wait to meet with Lenthe to make some inquiries about some things related to the growing conception of the piece that I had. One of these was whether he thought that Paul Pollard, a fairly recent addition to the renowned Jacobs School of Music faculty, might be interested in being the bass trombone soloist in the work. It seemed obvious to me that only the bass member of the family would have the necessary gravitas to portray someone entrusted with the oracles of God. Lenthe checked with his colleague and ascertaining the latter's interest in the project, I immediately launched into the project. Naturally, I'd also heard Pollard's playing, and was very happy to write a work that would involve him in a solo capacity. Once I'd thought of having organ and timpani parts in the work, I immediately thought of writing them especially for Jacobs School of Music organ faculty members Janette Fishell and John Tafoya, whose artistry I'd long admired from several of their recitals over the years. Shortly after I began writing the work, I realized that I wanted to portray several aspects of the prophetic office as described in Scripture, and after giving this concept a bit of thought, I came up with five clearly defined ideas that I wanted to represent in music. By this point, I had ceased thinking of the soloist as the prophet and the trombone choir, organ, and timpani as antagonists to the much beleaguered proclaimers of God's words to his people. It became clear to me that the entire ensemble would symbiotically have to portray the concepts I wanted to present in this work. The five sections begin with the commissioning of the prophet by the Lord. The prophetic office was not something that a person just decided to take on as a career, but was only given by divine mandate. Thus the opening movement is full of both mystery and majesty, since I was looking into a matter on which Scripture is silent ("The secret things belong to the Lord... " Deut. 29:29). The second section is entitled "The Proclamation," and is a bold march-like movement with some dissonance. The latter represents the fact that the prophet's message was frequently condemnatory, calling God's often disobedient people to repentance and faith. The movement's bold character reminds the listener that the prophetic office was not for the timid and unassuming man, but for one who would stand firm in the face of resistance to God's message. The third movement, however, is the most dissonant of the work as it represents the all-too-often rejection of the message being proclaimed. The music takes on an unmistakably mocking tone, the most so of any work I've ever written. After an increase in the intensity of the mocking character at the section's conclusion, the listener is carried directly into a movement depicting the prophet's stability and fidelity to God, these character traits suggested through tonal lines in the soloist, choir, and organ which are spun out over a constant pedal C in the organ and/or timpani. A strong climactic point in this movement is meant to evoke the power in abiding faith of the man of God, and his resolve to execute conscientiously his duties as long as his Commander gives him breath. The final section depicts the ultimate rejection by the people, no longer content with mocking God's spokesman (and God himself), by violently ending his servant's life. The piece moves to a powerful climax portraying this martyrdom, immediately followed by a very tonal passage based on Luther's Ein feste Burg chorale, a brief section meant to depict the soul of the prophet entering the eternal presence of his King. A brief and sad epilog reminds the listener of the Scriptural lament that the people "did not know the time of [their] visitation." (Luke 19:44) Of course, this work can be listened to solely for its musical impact without knowing its backstory, but as a Christian, I see contemporary relevance for the subject at hand. Modern day prophets have certainly known rejection, and sometimes even martyrdom, the German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer being one example of many that could be cited.

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