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Poul Ruders

Publisher: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Saaledes saae Johannes (1984)
Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
11 Minutes
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Programme Note
Poul Ruders Saaledes saae Johannes (1984)

THUS SAW SAINT JOHN is a young piece in more ways than one. I was 33 when I wrote it, but the "youthfulness" also shows in the willful orchestral bravado and the gothic embellishment of the composition itself. Nothing wrong with that, I had lots of fun composing the piece, intent on giving my audience a ride to remember.
Thus Saw... is a so-called symphonic poem, in other words a piece of music telling a story - and in 1984, the year of the premiere, that was not the sort of thing you were supposed to compose, if you knew what was good for you (the rigorous distinction between what´s considered good- and bad taste, has loosened its grib considerably since then, thank goodness).
Programmatic music was frowned upon by the goose-stepping modernist fraternity, not only in Denmark, but internationally as well.
Not that Thus Saw Saint John(the reference to Richard Strauss is evident)was trashed as such in the press. It was received with confusion, rather than with fury, but the pouting of lips and the narrowing of nostrils could be observed in certain quarters.
The term film music was whispered here and there...

The "story" being told is the famous, hair raising passage from the Bible, the Apocalypse:

"And I saw and behold, a pale horse and it´s riders name was Death, and Hades followed him; they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
...and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became a sackcloth, the full moon became like blood. The sky vanished like a scroll, that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place"

Revelation, chapter 6

Strong stuff, not for the faint-hearted; the score "illustrates" the text faithfully as it unfolds - and the graphic markings introducing each section proclaim in no uncertain terms what´s afoot:

Ghoulish - Macabre - Broader, tremendous, shivering - Solemn, dark - Weird - Mournfully striding - Threatening - Waiting - Ecstatic - Wildly dancing - Freezing - Wild - Alarming - Agitated - Awestruck.

Would I "earmark" a piece in the same way today? No, but I did in 1983, and it was, I guess, a natural a addition to a score so unequivocally a symphonic Grand Guignol.
You could say: "I went the whole hog"!

Enjoy the ride...

Poul Ruders
May 2018

Thus Saw Saint John saw its world premiere in Copenhagen by the Zealand Symphony Orchestra(now Copenhagen Philharmonic)on 28 November, 1984, conducted by Jan Latham Koenig.

Score preview

  • Ensemble
    Danish National Symphony Orchestra
    Leif Segerstam
  • Ensemble
    Ensemble InterContemporain
    Oliver Knussen
Thus Saw Saint John is probably his most integral and un-masked personal work to date. Furthermore, it is a craftsman-like achievement which one ought not miss...
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