Prelude To Eternity (2009) for Orchestra [9:00]
~ 8.5 X 14 score and set of 28 parts
Program Notes: The title Prelude To Eternity is a poetic expression for death. The idea behind the work is that for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ and who have the hope of heaven, life on this earth and the death that ends it are merely a breath compared to the eternal life that is yet to come. Two instruments in the piece are associated with specific motives: the alto flute is the voice of a lone mourning dove, which is representative of the human view of death as something to be mourned; and the timpani’s pulsating eighth notes symbolize the heartbeat. Along with these two figures, the motives upon which the composition is constructed are the hymn tune “O Worship the King,” harmonized in horn fifths, and the first seven notes of the Dies Irae, practically a cliché for death in art music. The banality of the Dies Irae as a representation of death has been exploited here to demonstrate the banality of the human view of death; the beginning of eternal life is hardly something to be mourned but rather a cause for celebration!
The introduction creates a mood of mystery and foreboding, a foreshadowing of the imminence of death. The timpani’s pounding “heartbeats” and a deep double bass pedal on D begin, followed by the alto flute’s “mourning dove” motive. The pitch class set of the “mourning dove” motive is , an important constructive element for the rest of the work.
The first section of the tripartite work begins as the woodwinds replace the ominous nature of the opening with a calm, pastoral one. Fragments of the tune “O Worship the King” are passed around the woodwind section, but the complete quotation makes its first appearance eleven measures later in the horns. This segment of the composition represents life on earth lived for the glory of God and is thus characterized by sweet melodies and simplistic harmonies symbolizing childlike faith. Life, however, is not without complications, a concept introduced by the plaintive “mourning dove” call in the alto flute, here doubled by the bassoons. A solo trumpet plays the hymn tune in F Major (the relative key of the opening key of D minor) over a Dies Irae-derived cascading string accompaniment that immediately repeats in the woodwinds as the horns and trumpets alternate phrases of the hymn tune in two different keys (D minor and F Major). The third and final repetition of the Dies Irae accompaniment in parallel thirds occurs again in the strings, this time in A minor under a horn melody in the same key and an augmented statement of the first four notes of the Dies Irae in the flutes and glockenspiel. The full orchestral sound vanishes suddenly as the low brass and timpani transition into the next section with figures once again derived from the Dies Irae.
The tonal center of the Allegro Agitato section is A, and the ostinato present throughout is based on the Dies Irae, here placed in A minor. Also present throughout is the “heartbeat” of the timpani on A. Every eight bars, the ostinato figure not only changes instrument families but also undergoes a change in the interval at which it is doubled, becoming more dissonant each time. The intervals are all based on the set of the “mourning dove” motive ; in other words, the ostinato is always doubled in parallel P4s, M3s, or half-steps. Underlying all are the repeated pedal tones in the glockenspiel, which, over the course of 56 bars, comprise a Dies Irae quotation in F# minor, a M3 away from the original tonal center of D. Over the ostinato, motives from the first section, such as the horn calls, reappear, although now often in two keys (related by either a half-step, a M3, or a P4) at once. After the last statement of the ostinato pattern, a long silence ensues, followed by timpani – the “heart” beating its last. The point of death arrives as the entire orchestra plays the Dies Irae homorhythmically, the strings in A minor and the woodwinds and brass  above and below A.
Following another long pause, the “mourning dove,” for the first time completely unaccompanied, “coos” twice before the double basses resume their deep pedal tone, this time on F#. The “heartbeat,” the source of life, is conspicuously absent until the third statement of the “mourning dove” call, but upon its reappearance the character of the music begins to slowly transform from mournful to exuberant. The motives used in this section mirror the introduction, but the mood is one of anticipation rather than dread. After a sweetly harmonized statement in the horns, the tune of “O Worship the King” is passed around the brass section in triumphant fanfare, leading to the climax of the piece: a quotation of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah”: “And He shall reign forever and ever!” The line is repeated three times: first in the brass and strings, second in the woodwinds, and third in the strings. The third statement is punctuated by two final occurances of the “mourning dove” motive, after which the musical representation of the human view of death is never heard again. This symbolizes God’s promise that “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4 NIV)
The work concludes with an atmosphere of joyful serenity. The alto flute is given the “And He shall reign” motive to illustrate how God replaces mourning with joy. Also, as fragments of the hymn tune are once again passed around the orchestra, there are no tonal complications, representing the perfection of heaven.