Monument (Towers of Suzhou) for orchestra Alternate version available for organ solo
A monument is a structure, often of extraordinary size, built to commemorate a person or event of particular historical or cultural importance. By design, monuments are often the most durable structures of a civilization, giving them illusory permanence. Percy Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias” describes a futility of monumental creation. In the poem, a traveler happens upon an Egyptian pedestal that reads, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Yet nothing remains except a colossal wreck. Indeed, surviving ancient monuments are relatively young within the context of human existence, and will inevitably crumble to ruin and dust. Our modern monuments will undoubtedly suffer the same entropic fate. Ironically, monumental creation throws humanity’s age into relief, with our species far outlasting anything it has yet created. Conversely, it magnifies humanity’s cosmic smallness. Nevertheless, the prevalence of monuments in cultures worldwide suggests a powerful and universal human desire to mark our individual and societal existence.
A musical monument, lacking a physical structure and temporal in nature, dissipates immediately. After the last sound leaves the hall, the monument’s existence continues only imperfectly in memory. Music can capture the immediacy of monumental experience, but necessarily admits the true ephemerality of any human creation. Architectural monuments often achieve both durability and magnificence by means of a tremendous application of simple design and economy of raw materials. Similarly, my piece Monument takes on a clear form, and rigorously engages only two basic ideas. Fortissimo pillars of sound open the piece in monumental grandeur. An expressive dyadic descent answers, representing an infinite fabric of time and unceasing pull of entropy. I combine these two musical materials in a series of fanfares, toccatas, and chorales to create a musical structure of clarity and strength. There is not a specific subject commemorated within Monument; rather, the piece is a momentary shout into the void—a sincere assertion and celebration of life, time, mortality, and impermanence. We are only here on this Earth for such a short time, so why not make a sound—and why not a monumental sound?
I originally wrote this piece for the most monumental of instruments, the organ, by means of a generous commission from the American Guild of Organists. I serendipitously finished writing this piece at the foot of Monument Mountain in Housatonic, Massachusetts; this was simply one of those odd but affirming coincidences of life. I undertook and completed the orchestral version of Monument shortly thereafter in Montréal, Quebec.
Original organ version commissioned by
the American Guild of Organists
for the 2018 Ronald G. Pogorzelski
and Lester D. Yankee Annual Competition
Orchestral Version Premiere
Suzhou Symphony Orchestra
Qi-Yuan Zhu, conductor
Jinji Lake Concert Hall, Suzhou, China
November 30, 2018
The orchestral version of this work was a winning composition of the 2018 Jinji Lake Composition Competition.