The Yellowstone Fires

for Wind Ensemble

Dan Welcher

Performing Ensemble: Wind Ensemble
Publisher: Elkan-Vogel, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

In the summer of 1988, a large portion of Yellowstone National Park was consumed by a series of fires. Partly because of the weather conditions at the time (it was a record drought) and partly because of the Park's policy of allowing naturally-caused fires to burn as a means of thinning vegetation and wildlife, these fires spread out of control. By the time the decision was made to fight them, it was too late: the fires continued until the first snows, and what had started as a series of lightning-induced brush fires had destroyed thousands of acres of forest.

Yellowstone was the first National Park, established by Congress in 1872. It is also the largest of all the Parks, and contains (in addition to the famous geysers and hot springs) the largest herd of bison and elk in North America. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth. My decision to write a work for large wind ensemble describing this tragedy is in the tradition of the Romantic period, when painters, poets, and composers chose items of contemporary history as their subjects. Works such as Gericault's ?The Raft of the Medusa? (about a marine disaster), Goya's paintings on ?The Horrors of War?, or more recently Charles Ives tone poems ?The Yale-Princeton Football Game? and ?The General Slocum? (about the explosion of a steam ferry, ending with ?Nearer My God To Thee?) have used musical means to describe natural and man-made events.

"The Yellowstone Fires" is an attempt not only to describe the disaster itself, but to comment on nature's ability to survive and renew. It begins with a series of lightning bolts, heard in piccolos and xylophones, that set off independent brush fires in the clarinets, then the horns, then the trumpets. (Musically, the brush fires are ?related? by pitch-sets...) As the brush fires spread, strong ?fire-winds? carry them into and through the forests while a sad and noble theme is intoned in octaves by the horns. The music can be characterized as one long crescendo made of several shorter ones. At the height of the blaze, a slow chorale melody appears in the piccolo, accompanied five octaves below by a slowly rising bass line. This begins to ?infect? the fires, until the chorale eclipses the running and trilling notes and becomes the primary musical focus. The chorale melody, which I call ?The Permanence of Nature?, returns after a reminiscence of the still-smoldering fires, and the work ends with a feeling of defiance and strong resistance.

"The Yellowstone Fires" was commissioned by Jerry Junkin for the University of Texas Wind Ensemble, and was completed in November of 1988.

Available on Rental

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by Jerry Junkin, for the University of Texas Wind Ensemble.
Composition Date 1988
Duration 9:00
Orchestration 6 3 8 3 4Sax. - 6 4 4 2 Euph.; 5Perc. Pno. Cb. Timp.
Premiere University of Texas Wind Ensemble, conducted by Jerry Junkin, Austin, Texas.

Score Preview