The Ancient of Days
A dramatic music narrative. Versions for large orchestra and a speaker or brass quintet, organ, percussion and a speaker. The piece can be found on the Ligonier Ministries CD, The Alphabet of Revelation.

Duration: 26' 20"
Difficulty: 4/5

Click here to view the score.
Voicing/Instrumentation - Orchestral Version
ORCHESTRA

3 Flutes (3rd doubling Piccolo)
3 Oboes (3rd doubling Cor Anglais)
3 Clarinets (3rd doubling Bass Clarinet
3 Bassoons (3rd doubling Contra Bassoon)

6 Horns
3 Trumpets
2 Tenor Trombones
1 Bass Trombone
1 Tuba

Timpani

Percussion (5 players)
     Piccolo Snare Drum
     Snare Drum
     Concert Toms (small, medium, and large)
     Gran Cassa
     Finger Cymbals
     Piatti
     Suspended Cymbals (small, medium, and large)
     Tam Tam
     Chimes (Tubular Bells)
     Crotales
     Glockenspiel
     Xylophone
     Vibes
     Marimba
     Bell Tree
     Mark Tree
     Rain Sticks
     Misc. Perc. TBD
     (along with the standard mallets, cymbals will be played with bow, metal scraper and a rubber ball on a stick; vibes may also be bowed)

Harp

Piano (doubling Celeste)

Strings
Voicing/Instrumentation - Brass Quintet Version
BRASS QUINTET

2 Trumpets
French Horn
Trombone
Tuba

Percussion (1 player)
     Timpani
     Bass Drum
     Floor Toms (small, medium, and large)
     Snare Drum
     Tam Tam
     Suspended Cymbals (small and large)
     Sizzle Cymbal
     Piatti
     Anvils
     Finger Cymbals
     Triangle
     Bell Tree
     Vibraphone
     Xylophone

Organ
Notes
The Ancient of Days has a very specific program in mind, as it is a dramatic music narrative based on the Bible’s seventh chapter of Daniel. I like to think of it as a movie without pictures. During the course of the work, the chapter is read by a narrator while music accompanies Daniel’s rich imagery with cinematic gestures. Commissioned by the Westminster Brass, the piece was originally composed in 1993 for brass quintet, organ and percussion. For the 2007 recording, I expanded the instrumentation to a large orchestra including triple woodwinds and six French horns.

I became interested in setting the chapter to music while reading the book of Daniel aloud with a small group of friends. I was fascinated by Daniel, who was transplanted from his own Hebraic culture to a life within the aristocratic ruling class of Babylon. He charted a precarious course as a trusted counselor to at least three different regimes in two antagonistic empires. As a devout follower of Israel’s God, he surely must have felt the tension between his life and faith and the prevailing paganism of Babylonian society. His was a difficult journey through minefields of political intrigue, religious competition and moral decline. Yet somehow he kept his balance and even flourished. It’s in this context that Daniel had his great apocalyptic vision recorded in chapter seven.

The Ancient of Days begins with a simple, stately theme modeled after the hymns of the Protestant tradition. It gives the listener a touchstone or reference point, as preparation for the turbulent images to come. At the second statement of the theme, however, shifting dissonances and broken military rhythms on the snare drum suggest a culture in decline, like Daniel’s and our own. This sort of treatment highlights one of the salient features of The Ancient of Days: it employs the technique of “word painting” to color the literary images with specific musical effects intended to bring the images to life between the listeners’ ears.

The music that describes the opening of the vision is dreamlike, punctuated by trumpet calls that hint at the violent nature of the things Daniel is about to see. The listener knows that this will be no pastoral idyll, but a fierce and terrifying nightmare. The piece unfolds in earnest as winds whip up the sea in a tempestuous section, orchestrated for the full ensemble. Out of the sea arise four great beasts, each characterized by its own particular music. These beasts have a cinematic quality to them – overblown, sometimes comically bloated in their self-importance.

The first beast is like a lion with eagle’s wings. Many believe that this animal represents the Babylonian Empire under King Nebuchadnezzar. My primary metaphor for this music was found in stone friezes at the British Museum that depict the Babylonian lion hunts. In a vulgar show of manliness, Babylonian kings would release hundreds of lions into an arena, chase them about in chariots, and slaughter them with arrows and spears. With this in mind, the music takes the form of a garish, bloody hunt. Daniel watches this beast until its wings are plucked and a man’s heart is given to it. This is descriptive of Nebuchadnezzar’s transformation and the restoration of his kingdom after seven years of insanity. This transformation is addressed musically with a brief reprise of the opening hymn tune.

The second beast is like a bear, generally interpreted to symbolize the Medo-Persian Empire that came into power after the Babylonians. I use the trombones, tuba, and timpani, along with contrabassoon and bass clarinet to depict this huge, lumbering creature gnawing on its feast of ribs. The third beast is like a leopard with wings, usually thought to represent Alexander the Great and the Greek Empire. The primary musical image is one of fierce speed, representing the force and swiftness of Alexander’s conquests. This relentless energy is portrayed by the trumpets, using a technique called double-tonguing that allows the trumpeters to play in very quick staccato rhythms, and is accompanied by the xylophone.

The fourth beast is more terrible than the other three, traditionally signifying an evil leader who will appear on the scene to dominate the world in its last days. Musically, this section begins with an arrogant initial statement that eventually turns into a fugue that never quite gets off the ground. It sinks under the weight of its own turbulent sonorities, finally yielding to a militaristic march theme that describes the war that this beast will wage. The beast theme and warlike elements return repeatedly throughout this section until the music degenerates into complete chaos which builds to a fever pitch and suddenly ends as God, the Ancient of Days, arrives to deal with the beasts.

The appearance of the Ancient of Days is expressed with a melody developed contrapuntally from a single phrase of the primary theme, suggesting divine order and inevitability. But overwhelming power is present also, described in the climactic moment as the beasts are judged and destroyed. Finally, the Son of Man steps forward to receive his rightful kingdom, accompanied by a quiet and straightforward statement of the hymn in its purest form, which grows gradually to a triumphant finish.
Text
Daniel, Chapter 7
(KJV)

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters.

Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it. And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.

After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth (and nails of brass): it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things. . . . I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; . . .

The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. . . . Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. . . .

I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. . . .

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. . . .

And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
Commission and Performance History
The Ancient of Days was commissioned by The Westminster Brass and premiered on October 22, 1993 in San Diego, California by The Westminster Brass with R. C. Sproul as the speaker. It was revised in 2007 and recorded by the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra with J.A.C. Redford conducting for the Ligonier Ministries CD, The Alphabet of Revelation.