Achilles Heel from TROYJAM | Michael Daugherty, composer

Achilles Heel
from TROYJAM (2009)

Instrumentation: Narrator (amplified); 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon; 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, 2 percussion (I=finger cymbals/suspended cymbal/chimes/bass drum/middle eastern bongos; II=finger cymbals/suspended cymbals/bell tree/claves/vibraslap/bass drum/xylophone/triangle); harp; strings

Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes, Hendon Music (BMI)

World Premiere: May 18, 2008 / Kennedy Center, Washington, DC / National Symphony Orchestra, Washington / Leonard Slatkin

Program Note:

The story of the Trojan War is told in Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad. Homer tells how the ancient Greeks sailed to the city of Troy and fought many battles against the Trojans for ten years on the beach in front of their city. The chief heroes of these battles were swiftfooted Achilles (for the Greeks) and greathearted Hektor (for the Trojans).

In her poem “Troyjam,” Anne Carson retells Homer’s story with a twist. Her narrative begins: “When the Greeks came to Troy they brought their whole orchestra with them, the Panhellenic Symphony Orchestra of Ancient Greece, Homer conducting.” Instead of fighting each other, the Greeks and the Trojans decide to “end this stupid war” by playing the instruments of the orchestra in a wild “jam” session. The message of “Troyjam” is more than relevant in today’s world: let’s make music not war.

In my composition, I use the instruments of the orchestra to create a musical setting for Anne Carson’s text. I have composed two distinctive themes to represent Achilles and Hektor: the musical theme of Achilles (first played by violins and eventually all the strings) is swift and agile, while the musical theme of Hektor (first played by trumpets and eventually all the brass) is noble and dark.

Troyjam is composed in two parts, performed without break. Part I features the narrator, reciting Anne Carson’s text with musical commentary. We hear trilling strings and quivering woodwinds playing rapid scales and stirring melodies; we hear the timpani and bass drum play thundering rhythms; we hear the brass section playing majestic fanfares, and we hear the double basses booming like the gods. Part II features the whole orchestra playing together, creating a musical fantasy on the Achilles and Hektor themes. My composition ends peacefully with the harp, reminding us of the great Achilles playing his lyre.

–Michael Daugherty