Empire in the Sand

for orchestra (2018)

duration: 7'

 

program note

Ozymandias, a poem by Percy Shelley, tells the story of a mighty empire of antiquity fallen to the ravages of time. All that remains is a crumbled statue of King Ozymandias (a Greek name for Rameses II) with the inscription “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” The poem explores the inevitable decline of empires and leaders and how they’re pretensions of greatness mean nothing in the course of history.

Empire in the Sand explores the story of Ozymandias. Under a shimmering expanse of strings, a nostalgic melody emerges. Repeated, twisted and built upon, the melody grows and the texture thickens and ever so slowly, the traces of a colossal empire appear in the sand. Growing and growing, the music follows the explosive rise of the empire until, at its climax; it disappears into the rolling dunes. Was it ever there, or was it just a trick of the heat?

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert... near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;

performance directions

And on the pedestal these words appear: 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.

- Percy Shelley

Copyright © 2019 James Mountain

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