Fantasia On Interesting Times
for Piano, Marimba and Orchestra (2018)
by Ron Hannah

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Duration: about 9 minutes


THE QUEST FOR A TITLE:

Finding a title for a composition is sometimes
as difficult as actually writing it - this one especially so.
I pondered several versions for several weeks
until I simply had to settle on something!
It is a complex piece, trying to express
complex and confused ideas.

Here are some titles I considered:
RHAPSODY FOR THE DANCE
RHAPSODY ON A LIFETIME
DANCE OF THE EXOPLANETS

I welcome further suggestions since
I'm still not entirely satisfied...

     It has become a cliché in the English-speaking world to quote the supposed Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times", the implication being that "interesting times" are usually chaotic and violent. According to Wikipedia, the closest thing that Mandarin actually offers, translates roughly as "Better to be a dog in peacetime than to be a human in wartime".


  

     Nevertheless, these are interesting times, nominally at peace, but in which the usual parade of enraged bullies fight their proxy wars (now doesn't that sound SO much better than actual wars?) This is nothing new, of course, and past battles with much less sophisticated means of killing have caused as much suffering as anything we have today. Take the 30 Years War (1618-1648), for example. It, and its attendant starvation and disease, wiped out a large portion of central Europe's population. I've been reading history books lately, and having abandoned and returned to this composition several times over the past 3 years, I finally realize that the year of its final completion - 2018 - is the 400th anniversary of the start of that dreadful series of battles. I think something subconscious was going on here...

     You may hear a computer-generated version of the score below, and it may surprise you that it appears at first to be so cheerful and rhythmic. The photo is of the Charles Bridge and the Castle in Prague, site of both the beginning and one of the bloodiest battles at the end of the 30 Years War. Even so, I defy you not to start dancing at the 7'49" mark!

     I was born shortly after World War II ended and I've never been caught up in a war zone, so one might think the curse wouldn't apply to me, but my life has been "interesting" nevertheless. I can remember, especially after reading John Hersey's Hiroshima, being afraid to look at the sky lest an atomic flash melt my eyes. More recently, I remember volunteering at the Austrian/Hungarian border, handing out clothing to refugees and being given protective latex gloves in order to help change the bedding of those unfortunates from Syria, Africa, Afghanistan, and feeling utterly helpless to understand truly or to alleviate their plight. I can remember having the expected, and accepted, childhood diseases, measles, mumps, etc., that would likely have killed me in former times. I have toured Cambodia and visited S-21, the former schoolhouse where those who were denounced were taken to be killed, and I have looked into the eyes of Mayan villagers in Guatemala, whose defiance is strong despite half a millenium of savage repression. I am not untouched by war, and this composition is a reflection of my confusion and my compassion. It was hard to write, and it is hard to write about.

     And yet the human spirit will not be held down, and that is the other part of this composition. Settlers returned following the 30 Years War. Despite our daily news, more people than ever now live in comparative comfort and security, with electricity, education, and clean water - despite glaring and hideous local anomalies. My life, though of modest means, is far more comfortable than that of any Medieval nobleman in his great house, and I have the amazing freedom to compose at leisure and be recognized for it. Despite the naysayers and truth deniers, humankind keeps making stunning discoveries and inventions, and where the mind is free to explore, great things happen: eradication of those diseases I somehow survived, space travel, new and cleaner ways to generate energy, the ability to make fairly realistic-sounding orchestral files of my compositions and to send them around the world!

     I hope you will hear both the joy and the forboding throughout this work. At 2'30" and especially at 6'15", the music becomes less cheerful and more dissonant (the latter is in fact a fragment of my original sketch from 2015). I admire the human spirit, true, but I am not all daffodils and unicorns, and no doubt further devastating conflicts will beset us.

     But the dance goes on.

     To obtain orchestral parts, please send me an email.


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