ICELAND (‘Eeslahnd’) – For Narrator and Orchestra
– Christopher Kaufman
Dedicated to the memory of Bill Holm: Icelandic American Poet
I composed this music originally in 2001. I have reworked the piece since then – from stem to stern. It was commissioned by new music champion Daniel Rieppel and The Southwest Minnesota Orchestra – and expressly for Icelandic American Poet, the illustrious Bill Holm, to narrate and who composed a poem for the occasion. This poem, Embarkation, occurs at the crux point of the work, where the adventurers begin their journey across the sea to Vinland, as the following program note explains.
ICELAND tells a story.
“Imagine a vast tapestry adorning the wall of an ancient stone castle. Dominating is the depiction of a massive volcanic mountain with a fiery crest. Along the leftward sward ancient Icelanders sit before a glowing form. It is Sibyl the Seeress – she describes the Dawn of Creation. Black birds flock above the titanic peak as lava flows along the rightward flank of the mountain reaching to the sea. Here one sees a misty white beach with ancient mariners provisioning a ship with a dragon- head prow for a long voyage. A large figure sports a shock of bright red hair. Footsteps in the sand trail downward along the shoreline – a blond-haired man stares transfixed at a mermaid formed of mist and shells. The remainder of the tapestry is dominated by the mighty ocean. Mythological forms and terrible creatures inhabit the dark waters. Along the sea-bottom you can see the giant Sea God, Aegir, in his glistening palace of crystalline splendor – a violent tempest rages above. The brave ship is depicted sailing through the rough waters. Further on, the Viking warriors are in battle from the deck of their ship with the giant sea serpent, Iormungander, who has risen to dispute their progress. At the far right is a beautiful Island sporting halos of light and verdant lands. A new Earth has risen from the storms of the sea. The travelers disembark, having reached Vinland and their journey’s end.”
This is the vision that ICELAND expresses. Through 12 narrated poems, including an original and pivotal poem titled ‘Embarkation’ written for this work by Icelandic Poet Bill Holm, ICELAND is like a landscape painting of Iceland, it tells the story of the ancient mariners, expresses the mythological story of the Ragnarock and, like many myths of the world, is ultimately a symbolic narrative for each listener’s personal life journey.
Bill’s Poem, which he wrote on random sheets of paper, from which he read during the world premiere 🙂
From the sea west of Sneafellsjokull on a cloudless day in summer.
Erik and Leifur saw a line of Ice with Mountains rising up behind it. Before them the silver spouting
of the whales ploughing their road Through the ship’s wake
and the circling ravens to point Them over the deep swells of the sea Heaving under the dragon’s prow…
In the music player to the side or below, you may hear my ‘composer’s performance’ rendition of the work. Since creating these sounds, I reworked the piece a bit, so not everything is the same.
Thank you for taking time to check out this sincerely heartfelt Symphonic Tone Poem. And all best to Bill Holm, who now reads his poems for the Gods in Valhalla, and regales them with stories about Box Elder Bugs and Scarlatti.
I have also created a short piece from one of the movements titled, The Sea God (sans narration). You may find it :HERE:
The Orchestral Forces Involved:
ICELAND requires a decent mid-sized orchestra. As good a compliment of strings as is possible, double winds (with piccolo, english horn, and bass clarinet and contra-bassoon if available), 4 horns, 3 trumpets in C, 2 tenor trombones, bass trombone and tuba. Both piano and harp are optimal, but cues can be handled all by one or the other. The percussion section involves a timpanist (with 3 or 4 timpani), and 3 additional players. Percussion instruments include various hand-held instruments, bass drum, glockenspiel and as full a compliment of cymbals and gongs as can be managed – the parts can be adjusted to match the forces possible in a given situation.
There is also a version for smaller regional sized orchestra which is of approx. 20 minutes duration.
In total – if all of the movements are performed as originally intended the entirety of ICELAND should take no more than a half-hour. It is possible to rearrange movements into a smaller time commitment.