Composer Tyler S. Grant has long been an admirer of breathtaking paintings of Frederic Edwin Church and particularly the creations of the Hudson River School painters. This mid-nineteenth century American art movement was represented by landscape painters influenced greatly by Romanticism. Church, a second-generation artist of this following, is recognized for his portrayal of historical events and grandioseportrait landscapes by his unique ability to blend realistic details and use of light and color with dramatic nationalism.
Church’s oil painting, Our Banner in the Sky, depicts a tattered American flag in the sky emblazoned as a fierce banner of red and orange colors above blackened water. The portrait symbolizes the aftermath of battle as asingular leafless tree confidently serves as the flagpole, while Church’s short brush strokes and the golden glow of the clouds form the flag’s torn stripes. The deep blue-green sky courageously appears between the blazing clouds and is dotted with striking stars. In the distance above the symbolic flag, the national bird of the United States, an eagle, soars with optimism through the harrowing sky. The painting identifies three concepts most important to nineteenth-century Americans: destiny, identity, and progress. Our Banner in the Skyhas had numerous poems created in its metaphorical recognition.
In honor of Church’s painting, Tyler S. Grant has orchestrated a musical illustration of Our Banner in the Sky. In the opening measures, the woodwinds represent the artist’s broad brush strokes as he begins to create the blazing landscape. A fiery musical passage is intensified by the brass as if to reproduce the dissonance of the first shots fired to sound the commencement of battle. Percussion is scattered throughout the composition representing conflict followed by a broadening of the melodic line eventually depicting defeat. In the final measures, one can hear the banner ascending into the sky with a flourish of heartfelt patriotism. Just as Church portrays such historical magnitude in his vibrant painting, Grant captures the dramatic essence of the painting in his composition.
Program note by Lori Schwartz Reichl, author & music educator
Please credit Lori Schwartz Reichl when reproducing or excerpting this program note.