Concord Band Logo The Concord Band
Box 302, Concord, MA 01742
Tel: 978-897-9969

Program Notes

Twilight of the Gods

(2010)

Andrew Boysen, Jr., composer

Twilight of the Gods depicts the story of Ragnarok, the end-of-the-world myth from Scandinavian mythology. It can be translated as “final destiny of the gods,” or “doom of the gods,” a translation used by Richard Wagner in the final part of his The Ring of the Nibelung operas. The story encompasses a series of events, starting with a relentless winter leading to a series of civil wars across the earth, and concluding with a great battle between the gods and their adversaries, resulting in their deaths and the destruction of the earth. The earth then rises once more, new gods take control of the heavens, and the human race is born again through two survivors.

The Ragnarok myth is a complex story, and it has been assembled through different literary sources, providing differing information. Artistic liberties were taken with some of the plot points for the sake of narrative structure and to illustrate the story’s cyclical nature. Mythologically, Ragnarok completes the “story arc” of the Norse myths. Its fatalistic take on the Old Norse religion and its final glimmer of hope show a faith that the end of the world is really just the beginning of better times.

The piece opens on Yggdrasil, the tree of life or “world tree,” an immense, holy tree that supports the infrastructure of the old Norse cosmos. We zoom past the tree and see an earthly village at the onset of fimblvetr, “the great winter.” The fimblvetr ravages the townspeople, as they argue over survival and scraps of food, and from this chaos springs a worldwide civil war.

As the battles rage, a rooster representing each of the three gathering factions crows, heralding the beginning of the end. The first, Fjalar, represents the earth; the second, Gulinkambi, is the golden rooster of the gods, and the third, unnamed rooster crows from the depths of Niflheim, the frozen underworld.

The jotun hear the call and begin assembling their forces. The jotun are a race of elemental nature spirits, often at odds with the gods and representing the chaotic forces of nature. The first creature to emerge is Jormungandr, a sea serpent so long it encircles the earth, biting its own tail. It is followed by hordes of jotun, crawling out of their hiding places. Finally, we see Loki, would-be god, trickster, and agent of chaos, sailing to battle on a ghost ship crewed by the dead. At his side is his grotesque daughter, Hel, Queen of the underworld.

Loki’s ship is spotted by his old enemy, Heimdall, the watchman of the gods and guardian of the gates of Asgard (heaven). Heimdall blows his horn as a signal to the other gods, who assemble at the steps of Valhalla, the hall of the slain. Odin, the one-eyed chieftain of the gods, presides over the council and prepares his people for battle. At his side is his son Thor, god of thunder and champion of earth, as well as his Valkyries and armies of dead heroes.

The gods assemble a shield-wall, and the jotun hordes do the same. As the battle begins, several important figures square off against each other. Heimdall and Loki, who were always enemies, battle to the death. Frey, god of fertility, has to face Surt, the fire jotun king, using only an antler as his weapon. Odin charges on his eight-legged steed against the giant jotun-wolf Fenrir, only to be swallowed whole. And Thor, champion of the earth, does battle with the sea serpent Jormungandr. Thor manages to slay Jormungandr, but the monster’s venomous breath proves so poisonous that Thor staggers nine steps backwards and falls to his death.

With the death of Thor, the son of Odin and the earth-goddess Jord, the earth begins to crumble, and Surt the fire-jotun throws flames everywhere. The ground cracks, the sun turns black, and the earth sinks into the sea, taking everyone and everything with it.

And then there is nothing.

From this nothingness, the earth rises again, with the support of Yggdrasil, the tree of life, which cannot die. At the base of Yggdrasil, two humans have survived the destruction, hiding in a crook in the tree’s roots. These human beings are Lif and Lifthrasir — “life” and “the will to live.” They alone will repopulate the new world.

Twilight of the Gods was commissioned by a consortium of schools organized by the Western and Northwestern Divisions of the College Band Directors National Association and premiered by the University of Nevada — Reno Wind Ensemble (Dr. A. G. “Mack” McGrannahan III, Director of Bands).

—published score and JRO

Twilight of the Gods is a programmatic work depicting the story of Ragnarok from Scandinavian mythology. The 2010 commission consortium, with 26 university and community bands, was organized by the Western and Northwestern divisions of the College Band Directors National Association. University of New Hampshire professor and composer Andrew Boysen Jr. created this exciting and dynamic piece for symphonic band. The story starts with a relentless winter leading to a series of civil wars across the earth, and concluding with a great battle between the gods and their adversaries, resulting in their deaths and the destruction of the earth. The earth then rises once more, new gods take control of the heavens, and the human race is born again through two survivors.

—JRO

INDEX


This page last updated: 2017/12/9
David Tweed, webmaster
© Copyright 1995-2017
The Concord Band Association.