AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW
The title, “At the End of the Rainbow” conjures up an almost fairytale- like image, with the proverbial pot of gold to be found … at the end of the rainbow.
This Symphonic Poem was a Commission by the National Youth Orchestra for their 25th Anniversary Celebrations in 1988. As such it had to be a work that would challenge young people, yet at the same time to be fun to play. It was composed in such a way that the complexity would not be in the individual parts but the virtuoso result would be in the combination of parts.
It can be heard as the simple unfolding of the Biblical Story of the Flood but also on a deeper level, as a process of spiritual growth, moving from Decadence, through Purification to the final Spiritual Redemption. This is achieved musically through a series of numerological and symbolic devices in an abstract setting dominated by tone colour.
The first section creates the mood of social decadence, which erodes all human values and led to the catastrophe of the Flood. The work begins with instruments in their low registers to symbolize the depths of immorality to which mankind had sunk. The ominous string tremolandi of the opening bars are punctuated with insistent low E flats: E flat being “ES” in German, meaning ‘eat’ symbolizes the serpent’s temptation to Man (and Woman) to Eat from the Tree of Knowledge.
This act transformed the balance in the world from Innocence (and Life) to Sin (and Death). The musical theme which becomes a kind of “leitmotiv” (recurring motif), representing “SIN” is derived from the Hebrew word CHET meaning Sin. CHET becomes C B E C# (or Bb) in musical notes. This snakelike figure is first enunciated by 2 Bassoons.
The first inkling one has that all is not well, is the appearance of disturbing interjections on high woodwinds – before humans are able to sense impending danger, birds especially, react prior to a natural disaster and this screeching bird-like figure comes as a warning of the Flood. Here too the timpani rolls illustrate the mounting anger of G’d.
A contrasting section follows, which is subtitled “The Building” i.e. “Noah to the rescue”! – The hammering and knocking sounds of the building of the Ark, and the ‘claves’ are given exactly 120 repeated percussion beats to signify numerologically that the Ark took 120 years to build.
We hear pairs of Oboes, Horns, Clarinets, Trumpets, Bassoons, Trombones and Flutes, separated by percussion interjections. The same musical material, transition or bridge is used and consists of an “opening out” pattern, which ascends and descends gradually symbolizing the ascent towards higher spiritual values.
The first soft raindrops are introduced musically by a 5-note ostinato pattern on the harp, and later on pizzicato strings. Throughout this section we hear continual timpani rumbles urging people to repent before it is too late, together with touches of the “Sin” theme.
The rain becomes heavier, and the “Storm” theme erupts in the woodwinds – it is a variation of the “sin” theme in 6 notes, C-B-Bb-F-E-Bb- ……………. Then the heavens open up and the bowels of the earth gush forth boiling mud. This very free aleatoric section illustrates chaos and catastrophe, with frenetic figures descending, meeting dramatic ascending patterns from the lower instruments.
This cacophony of sound gradually subsides, leaving a solo vibraphone tremolo as the aftermath of the Flood……. The process of purification of the Earth by water is complete and a Raven, depicted by a Clarinet, is sent out to see if the deluge is over but it returns. However, the dove, portrayed by the flute, flies out optimistically and does not return which signifies that the flood is over.
The process of regeneration and re-growth is symbolised in the music by instrumental crescendo bursts as though the world is once more bursting into blossom.
Snatches of the “Sin” theme appear as a reminder and warning, but the music progresses optimistically until the final statement of this theme in long note values (at fortissimo dynamic) – very, very loud throughout the orchestra.
And then, THE RAINBOW: The symbol of G’ds promise and covenant with mankind that there would NEVER be another FLOOD. The final bars reflect a mood of deep ecstasy, signifying that indeed the illusive pot of gold is there, if one follows in the way of Truth – the reward being the final redemption and the beauty of the World to Come.
Although I attempted to infuse the entire work with a timelessness, compatible with the universal human condition, I suspect elements of indigenous African material crept in subconsciously but that is for the listener to judge.
I would like to share with you an interesting mystical numerological phenomenon which occurred at the end of my composing the piece. It is written in commentaries on the Flood, that from the first drop of rain until the very end of the flood it took a full year.
When I counted the number of bars of music on completion of the work, the measures added up to 365!!!