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Leviathan of the Ancient Deep

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The word “Leviathan” comes from the Hebrew word meaning “one who twists and coils,” or “the winding one”. This musical work is a depiction of the ancient Dragon of the Sea mentioned in the Bible and other rabbinic texts. Taking its cue from the description of this awesome Creature of imagination, this concerto features the virtuosic properties of the six-string electric violin with its immense range, while the various and creative sounds available to the synthesizer and electric wind instrument (EWI) enhance the beauty of the acoustic orchestra. The percussion is meant to stand apart as an entity unto itself, to evoke an air of tribal antiquity with sounds reminiscent of Japanese taiko and Middle Eastern drumming practices.

The three movements of this concerto tell a story of warriors setting sail upon the seas to find this ancient creature, Leviathan, for themselves…

I. Seekers of the Legend: “There go the ships: [there] is that Leviathan, [whom] thou hast made to play therein.”   

II. Sighting: “Canst thou draw out Leviathan with an hook?... None is so fierce that dare stir him up... Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear... He is a king over all the children of pride.”   

III. The Hunt: “In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan...that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that [is] in the sea.”

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The following is taken from the "Notes to the Performer" page of Sarah Wallin Huff's 2008 Concerto for Six-String Electric Violin, Chamber Orchestra, Electric Wind Instrument, and Synthesizer:

The word “Leviathan” comes from the Hebrew word meaning “one who twists and coils,” or “the winding one”. This musical work is a depiction of the ancient Dragon of the Sea mentioned in the Bible and other rabbinic texts. According to Job, “Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook?... Shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? None is so fierce that dare stir him up… His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal…his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning… Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth. In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him…. When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid: by reason of breakings they purify themselves. The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon… He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: he maketh the sea like a pot of ointment. He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary. Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.”

482px-Destruction of Leviathan

"Destruction of Leviathan". 1865 engraving by Gustave Doré.

Taking its cue from the description of this awesome Creature of antiquity and imagination, this concerto features the virtuosic properties of the six-string electric violin with its immense range, while the various and creative sounds available to the synthesizer and electric wind instrument (EWI) enhance the beauty of the acoustic orchestra. Ideal set-up must take into account that the three electronically powered instruments are to be a part of the acoustic world, and their sound must blend with it as such. One sound world must not intrude upon the other, but both should work flawlessly together, with the exception that the electric violin should necessarily stand out as the soloist. When placing the instruments and their equipment, one configuration to consider is to have the synthesizer and EWI set to one side of the orchestra as their own instrumental family. The solo violinist may stand, as is custom, in the front where he or she is able to communicate with the conductor. No pedals or additional equipment is necessary for the violinist in this work; only the natural timbres and the vast range of the six-string electric violin are called for. However, the soloist should take note that an original Cadenza is to be executed toward the end the third movement. He or she may feel at complete liberty to construct a cadenza according to the soloist’s personal style and instincts. It is the suggestion and wish of the composer that the soloist utilize the wealth of thematic material already presented throughout the work up to the point of the cadenza’s appearance, but the manner in which it is presented is left up to the soloist; a long-held trill at the end - while not required - is a tried-and-true signal to the conductor that the soloist is ready to continue with the orchestra to the grand finale. This cadenza is in homage to both the traditional concerto style and to the typically improvisatory nature of the electric violin.

A final note on performance is to the enormous use of percussion in this work. While it is necessary to maintain adequate balance between all voices, the percussion is meant to stand apart as an entity unto itself, to evoke an air of tribal antiquity with sounds reminiscent of Japanese taiko and Middle Eastern drumming practices. In the third movement especially, the percussion is to act as an equal partner with the violin solo and EWI, allowing the orchestra to speak in turn only after these are finished.


The titles of the three movements are as follows:

  • I. Seekers of the Legend There go the ships: [there] is that Leviathan, [whom] thou hast made to play therein.
  • II. Sighting Canst thou draw out Leviathan with an hook?... None is so fierce that dare stir him up... Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear... He is a king over all the children of pride.
  • III. The Hunt In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan...that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that [is] in the sea.

--Sarah Wallin 08:43, 19 December 2008 (UTC)

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