Fury: Van der Roost

When I was in high school, there was this band that wore black and silver uniforms and performed aggressive, angry music at band contests. Quite frankly, they scared the hell out of the rest of us. Part of the reason for that was the music their director chose to perform had such “affect.” It moved the audience and always elicited an emotional response.

One of these pieces was Stonehenge by Jan Van der Roost (b. 1956) for Brass Band. The Brass Band is an English tradition that began in the late 1800s and exists today in many parts of Europe. Each town would have its own Brass Band and they would march to neighboring towns to have some of the first “battles of the bands.” The reason there were so many brass bands was because brass instruments were much less expensive to make than string or woodwind instruments during the Industrial Revolution, when metal and machinery became more widely available. Brass bands consist of piccolo trumpets, trumpets, cornets, French horns (though most are made in Germany now, so they are just called Horns), alto horns (like a small baritone), trombones, baritones, euphoniums (like a small tuba), various sizes of tubas, and percussion. I love the sound of a brass band because of the wide range of dynamics and pitch, from very high- to very low-sounding instruments. Going to a brass band concert is the closest thing to to seeing a Rock concert in the Classical music genre.

Stonehenge is a great example of the definition of the word fury. It portrays a violent, wild anger. An untamed, powerful anger. It begins with a soft, dream-like atmosphere that lasts for several minutes until the is a rumbling in the distance of drums and brass, sounding the alarm. When the threat finally arrives, a rampage of fury ensues:

The chord progression in this section is so thickly-scored by Van der Roost and has so much dissonance, it can sound almost atonal to the listener. Remember, atonal means there is no recognizable melody or key that the notes fit into. This coincides with the wild, violent anger of fury. Violence rarely makes logical sense. It can be disorganized, random, destructive, and pointless. Or raw aggression, which is what this clip seems to show. The composer wrote about the piece here, but does not give us very concrete answers as to what this music means.

Random angry baby

I like the use of silence in this next clip. Have you ever known someone who was really angry, but being completely silent about it? That is almost more scary than their violent outbursts.

The silences keep us in suspense. There are times during the day that I have enough frustration, I could imagine myself as the percussionist in this clip wailing on a drum. Can you feel it? Is your aggressive side coming out? Isn’t this a great way to deal with pent up aggression? Trying to think of bunny-shaped clouds never worked for me, anyway.

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