A live performance by the Crane School of Music Wind Ensemble, Brain Doyle conducting.
Composer: David Heuser Instrumentation: Band:
picc, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, En. horn, Eb clarinet, 3 Bb clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 2 alto saxes, tenor sax, bari sax, 3 trumpets, 4 horns, 3 trombones, baritone/euphonium, tuba, timpani, 4 percussionists, piano Percussion Required:
snare drum, bass drum, tom-tom, small suspended cymbal, medium suspended cymbal, crash cymbals, 5 temple blocks, maracas, cabasa, ratchet, lion’s roar, slapstick, tambourine, wood block, brake drum (or metal plate), castanets, police whistle, sand paper blocks, triangle, E and Eb crotales, xylophone, vibraphone
Year Composed: 2012 Duration: 6 minutes Pages (score): 36
A Screaming Comes Across the Sky is the first sentence from Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity's Rainbow. The book’s title refers to the parabola made by a rocket or bomb in flight; specifically, Pynchon is referring to the V2 rocket, which the Germans were lobbing at London during World War II, as the thing screaming across the sky. Gravity’s Rainbow, the parabola, is the central metaphor of the book, signifying many things, including the trajectory of life itself, from birth to death. Unlike the earlier sub-sonic rockets, the V2 is super-sonic, meaning that those on the ground no longer hear death coming. Simply put, if you hear the V2 approaching, the rocket has already landed and you were spared.
By no means does this short work attempt to capture the richness and complexity of Pynchon’s dense 700+ page novel. Instead, I focused on the mood struck by the first sentence and the shape described by Pynchon’s title. In many ways the piece is very much about altitude, with register playing a central role in the form and movement in the piece. I also took, from the aggressive, active nature of Pynchon’s first sentence, a sense of relentless kinetic motion, and throughout the piece there is a rhythmic pulse, always played by someone, even in the quietest section where it is performed by the percussion section playing the sides of their drums with their fingers. The only point where this incessant pulse is not heard is when the horns burst out with the main melody of the piece, a melody that has always been, up to this point, only hinted at, buried or unfinished, struggling to gain altitude until finally, at this climatic moment towards which the whole piece leads, everything else is stripped away.
A Screaming Comes Across the Sky was originally composed as an orchestral work commissioned by the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival for its “New Texas Overtures” program. It was awarded the 2006 Fauxharmonic Orchestra Composition Prize, and was the winner of the Columbia Orchestra’s 2007 American Composer Competition.
Review of the orchestral premiere:
Performance by the Texas Music Festival Orchestra, Carl St. Clair, conductor, reviewed in the
Houston Chronicle by Charles Ward (July 3, 2005)
"Saturday's orchestral concert at the University of Houston's Moores Opera House opened with the last of four New Texas Overtures featured at this year's festival...
"David Heuser's A Screaming Comes Across the Sky was a shot-in-the-arm beginning.
"Commissioned by the festival, Heuser's music certainly matched the title through its intense, driving rhythms and thunderclap-loud outbursts. This was all-American music at its most dynamic and visceral.
"Yet the piece by the University of Texas-San Antonio composer was well-crafted and smartly orchestrated (despite the whistles that kept reminding me of Bernstein's West Side Story). The music continually engaged mind and body as it careened along.
"Native Texan Carl St. Clair, a UT-Austin graduate now music director of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra in Orange County, Calif., was the right conductor to have on the podium.
"He led the TMF Orchestra forcefully and dramatically, encouraging players with deft cues but never letting them off the hook in meeting his expectations. He drove Heuser's music forward with energy and vision."