His Body Lies, His Soul Marches

Speaker: Theophilus Chandler Doctoral Candidate Thesis Defense Department: Shepherd School of Music

This dissertation is a new work for orchestra, eight minutes in duration, scored for triple woodwinds, full brass, percussion, piano, and strings (3,3,3,3 – 4,3,3,1 – pno – timp+3 – str). The work incorporates the tune “John Brown’s Body,” which memorializes the radical abolitionist John Brown, famous for his involvement with Bleeding Kansas and the Harper’s Ferry Raid. While the subtitle “Variations on a Union Army Hymn,” conveys the episodic structure of the piece, the variations subvert the traditional theme-and-variations procedure, in which repetitions of a static harmonic structure support a melodic line of incrementally increasing complexity. Instead, the variations are better described as fragmentations or deformations of the theme. The piece begins with a collision of two types of music in stark contrast: a pointillistic texture of diffuse, low-register sounds, against a solo violin struggling to sing the “John Brown’s Body” tune. In each episode, the tune becomes further fragmented into its constituent motives, and this fragmentation allows it to assimilate into the language of the surrounding music. The piece ends with a climactic rush to the double bar line, and by this point, only the most salient remnants of the theme catch our ear. “John Brown’s Body” was the product of spontaneous creativity, composed collectively by a battalion of Union soldiers. From here the song spread rapidly; it was popular with the military and civilians. Upon hearing the rousing melody, Julia Ward Howe was inspired to elevate the lyrics, reworking the coarse text into the more poetic “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” In doing so, Howe stripped the song of its references to contemporaneous political figures, replacing them with imagery and biblical allusions. The more accessible lyrics of the “Battle Hymn” have allowed the melody of “John Brown’s Body” to be appropriated for unexpected purposes, some non-political and some actively challenging John Brown’s principles. The fragmentation and assimilation of the tune in His Body Lies, His Soul Marches follows a similar trajectory –having its detail stripped away, the theme finds itself in unexpected circumstances. https://riceuniversity.zoom.us/j/92380069204?pwd=cG5abTQ2Sk5UZ1ZuNzZoN0… (Department : Shepherd School of Music)