January 3, 2010
I’ve posted my newest piece, “Xerxes,” a concert march. (The title is, as usual, courtesy of AEJ, who called it Xerxes within 30 seconds of hearing the piece the first time. Xerxes, for those who haven’t seen “300,” was King of Persia from 485 BC until his assassination by stabbing in 465 BC.) Midlothian High School, here in Texas, commissioned the piece. I’d originally thought I’d write a march along the lines of the Ives Country Band March, but the more I worked on that idea, the more I felt like I was just trying to reinvent the Ives March, which is already a sort of reinvention of a march. My version sounded like bad Ives, and although it’s a great, crazy piece, I wouldn’t describe the Ives as sounding “good” to begin with.
With that idea out the window, I talked with AEJ about other possibilities. So many concert marches blur together in my head, all of them in some peppy major key, falling into either the chipper patriotic American sound or the more prim British sound. (I’m a huge fan of William Walton’s music — his Partita for Orchestra (iTunes link) is one of my favorite pieces ever, and if you listen to it, you’ll hear where I first discovered the Vulgar Trombone Glissando ® — but his marches are pretty decidedly prim and recognizably British.) Since I don’t really do prim, or patriotic, I went with… angry. The plan was, “this is going to be a march about somebody who is bad news.” That gave me the idea for the tune in the A section. Somehow, the heavily Persian middle section (which my friend Michael Markowski described as sounding like a “topless Vegas Persian-themed classic MGM showgirls show”) just sort of happened, and I worked that material into the recap of the A section at the end to tie it all together with one big nasty pissed off Persian bow.
Structurally, even though I wanted the tone to be pretty different from a traditional march, I wanted the structure to be basically “correct,” so it’s in A-B-A form, with that B “trio-like” section in the subdominant. It also stays in 4/4 the entire time — making it my only piece in the past 15+ years that has stayed entirely in 4/4. That was a sort of fun limitation.
The premiere is in February. I can’t wait to hear how it sounds with real players. (The MIDI makes the piece sound even more like a video game than it will “for real.” At least I hope so…)
Give it a look/listen. It’s just a fairly straightforward concert march, only a little nastier. I don’t expect it’ll be played at a lot of July 4th parades. (Well, maybe somewhere like NYC.)