The Dawn Comes Up Like Thunder
Poem for Orchestra (2003/4)
by Ron Hannah

Duration: about 6' 30"

    The title is from Kipling's Mandalay, a poem that has haunted me for many years. The last few lines run as follows:

Re-use of this piece in

Over the course of some 15 years, beginning when I went to China,
I have been working sporadically on a large Cantata based on poetry of
Earth, Sea and Sky.
It suddenly occurred to me that this piece would suite that larger work
as an orchestral interlude. If you click here, you will go to the
Cantata's page and see it listed there as #5.
In addition to the standard orchestra listed below for the original version,
the Cantata version has an additional Flute, an English Horn
a Bass Clarinet, a Contrabassoon, a Tuba, 2 Percussionists, a Harp,
and a Piano.
So there are now 2 versions: one for standard orchestra
and one for expanded orchestra. CONDUCTORS, take note!

On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

Despite Kipling's rampant racism and Imperial chauvinism, its evocation of the mysterious East seen through the eyes of a young soldier recently returned from a posting in Burma (I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land), still manages to suggest all the mystery and majesty of the Orient, and I still

"hear" that sunrise and feel that majesty. When I arrived in China in late 2002, that poem came back to me very strongly and I started writing this piece almost immediately. China is a land that you love or you hate, and having lived there for 2 years, and having spent still more months wandering throughout Southeast Asia, I am a lover. As the poem says, If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else. Living there has its challenges, of course, yet the bureaucratic hassles and the invasion of Western business and Western ways somehow have not dampened my romance with China and with Asia, though I look with dismay at the average Chinese as he chain-smokes and strives pointlessly for that new car or tv set.

    If Kipling's poem is one source for this piece, another is the sunrise scene from the ballet, Daphnis et Chloé. Ravel's treatment is slow and majestic, evoking the gradually lightening sky and the final appearance of the day. Mine begins with a quick, birdlike and chromatic theme in the woodwinds which builds over several pages to a big crescendo as the sun finally appears. Does my sunrise rival Ravel's? You decide. Click on the strip below to hear a fairly realistic (a friend called it "evocative") computer realization of the score. One day I hope to replace that Logic Pro version with a recording made by a live orchestra - conductors, take note.

- THE DAWN COMES UP LIKE THUNDER - Logic Pro simulation -

    Following the sunrise, I was stuck for some way to continue. I wasn't following a narrative as Ravel had been, so I had no story to fall back on. However, in my Chinese travels I had encountered (and even written for) many unfamiliar instruments. One of the most exciting is a simple double-reed trumpet called a suona horn. It resembles a snake charmer's instrument. I had found and transcribed a recording entitled One Hundred Birds Worshipping the Phoenix, a piece treated in a wildly improvisational way by performers (yet composed in fact by Wang Jianzhong (d. 2016)), and perfectly suited to that instrument. You can hear it at 2'40" on the audio strip above. The YouTube example in the link I just gave is not the performance I used however - I can no longer find it. I gave the tune to the piccolo and the oboe in my score, and thus my poem for orchestra had sufficient thematic material at last (and I could even keep my bird idea going!) My apologies to the oboe player but I believe that nimble fingers should find it quite playable! Modern players have a way of surprising me, and I don't worry too much about writing a difficult part after this comment from a violinist when I placed a new piece in front of her asking if it was playable: "Hmf," she said, "Everything's playable!" Besides, I'm a woodwind player myself, so I have a pretty good idea of what can be done.

    This is surely the most travelled of my works. It was begun in Suzhou, near Shanghai, in late 2002 as mentioned, and during the following spring my partner and I went on a backpacking tour of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, before returning to China where it was finally finished. Parts of this manuscript were thus written on tropical beaches and on the banks of the Mekong beneath coconut palms. Only later did I learn that in Vietnam, 50 people per year are killed by falling coconuts.

    The orchestra is as follows:

  • 1 flute
  • 1 piccolo
  • 2 oboes
  • 2 clarinets in Bb
  • 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns in F
  • 2 trumpets
  • 2 trombones
  • 1 bass trombone
  • 1 percussionist
  • 1 timpanist
  • Strings

     To obtain a sample score of this version (the opening 10 pages), please click in the black box above (and see the box, above right, to learn of an expanded orchestra version). Full score and parts may be obtained through the Canadian Music Centre.