The Crazed Moon

Julian Anderson (1967)

The Crazed Moon 1997

3333 - 4331 - timp - perc(2) - harp - strings

This piece takes its title from a poem by W.B. Yeats, in which he describes a frightening vision of ‘the moon, crazed through much childbirth/ staggering through the sky.’ This image combined with the beautiful lunar eclipse seen in March 1996 provided the main starting point for a work for orchestra lasting about thirteen minutes, in one continuous movement. The other factor determining the threnodic character and funereal mood of the work was the sudden death in September 1995 of a composer and friend, Graeme Smith, at the age of only twenty-four. This piece is dedicated to his memory.

My previous orchestral work, Dyptich (1991), was essentially a series of continuous processes which flowed through the music from start to finish. In contrast, The Crazed Moon is deliberately more cut up and discursive; it jumps between several different types of music which evolve more independently of each other, so that the structure is repleat with echoes and premonitions of musical events, in addition to the events themselves. Despite all this, the sense of the piece unfolding one big arc is nevertheless predominant. The following is a brief summary of the form, for those who want it.

The work opens with distant fanfares for three trumpets, emphasising the pitches G and E-flat (‘Es’ in German) - a reference to the initials (G.S.) of the dedicatee. The full orchestra then enters hesitantly, uncertainly, in the lowest register. The music gradually unfolds a long, slow harmonic progression, which is broken off before achieving completion. A chance of direction ushers in bells, gongs and harps tolling the pitches G and E-flat, against which a sequence of sighing and lamenting melodic figures descends on woodwind and high strings. As these lines accumulate in considerable polyphonic density, the music swerves violently into far more volatile and hectic textures, before launching into the long central plateau layers. Each layer plays its own variants of the basic melody simultaneously, with up to thirty different variants heard at once. The melody is divided up into several verses - each new verse and each subsection of a verse is greeted by dissonant fanfares on high wind, brass and bells.

The final verse is the swiftest of all, with the melody spinning across every range of the orchestra before it collapses dramatically - this, as it were, is the moment of eclipse, greeted by baying fanfares on brass. There follows a series of hieratic chorales uniting the melodic and harmonic elements of the work. The final one is the most complex and in effect a section in itself: two chorales unfold simultaneously on wind and strings, producing greater harmonic richness than anything else in the work (the strings are sometimes divided into up to fifty individual parts here). Just before the final chorale, we hear a new part of the chord-sequence begun at the orchestra’s first entry. Following the chorale, this chord-sequence is finally brought to completion, and the distant trumpet fanfares return to conclude the work as a pedal E fades in the doublebasses.

Julian Anderson

20.7.97 Cheltenham International Festival: BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Tadaaki Otaka
17.1.98 Berlin, Germany: Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra / Stefan Asbury
9.4.99 BBC Maida Vale, London: BBC Symphony Orchestra / Matthias Bamert
October 1999 Spanish tour: BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis
24.1.00 BBC Maida Vale, London: BBC Symphony Orchestra / Oliver Knussen
8.2.01 Leeds: English Northern Philharmonia / Timothy Redmond
31.1.03 Warwick Arts Centre: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo
30.4.03 Royal Festival Hall, London: London Philharmonic Orchestra / Tadaaki Otaka
29.5.03 Symphony Hall, Birmingham: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/ Sakari Oramo
4.2.10 Salle Pleyel, Paris: Orchestre de Paris / Christoph Eschenbach
19.7.10 Dartington International Summer School: Dartington International Summer School / Diego Masson
19.3.11 Royal Festival Hall, London: London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski
14.9.12 Adelaide Town Hall, Australia: Adelaide Symphony Orchestra / Martyn Brabbins
11.10.13 Nagoya, Japan: Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra / Tadaaki Otaka
2nd doubling piccolo, 3rd doubling alto flute
3rd doubling cor anglais
3rd doubling bass clarinet
3rd doubling contrabassoon
2 tuned gong, 3 untuned gong, 2 tam-tam, tubular bells, bass drum, vibraphone, hand bells, whip, chinese cymbals