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Fields of Crimson – Symphonic Gettysburg

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The opening moments of this work give one the feeling that they are in for a truly touching piece. It holds the mystery and gentle expectation of the early cords of Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring.” The subject matter of “Fields of Crimson,” the battle of Gettysburg, contributes to this anticipation.

What follows only disappoints. After those brief moments of inspiration, the listener is served a simplistic reproduction of the sounds of Civil War battle wrapped in a symphony. When the battle noises begin, one realizes that those opening chords were “the calm before the storm,” a silly idea it seems given that this is intended to be a literal timeline of the events. I doubt that there was much beauty or peace in the hearts of any American on those days, especially those living close to the conflict.

Then, if one hasn’t been tipped off to the progression of the work by the sequence of peace then battle trumpet calls then cannon timpani, an actress appears on the scene reading a fictitious diary of a little girl observing the goings-on. This takes the overall structure of the work from simplistic to patronizing.

War is hell. It leads to suffering and rarely has the intended result. Deep human emotions are let loose in the immediate and shocking concentration of death and in the long lasting mental anguish of the survivors. Symphonic interpretation of this has long been the subject of composers to varying degrees of success. The failure of this work is that it tries to use the literal progression of the events as its engine.

That isn’t to say that composer Todd Goodman completely fails. There are times, as in the very beginning and throughout, that he allows himself to set aside the “what happened next” aspect, and try to interpret the complex feelings that American’s still feel when we reflect on this conflict.

Goodman is young and I imagine that it took considerable determination on his part to get this work performed, much less recorded and distributed on CD. I anticipate that we will see some great things from him in the future. Unfortunately, “Fields of Crimson” will not be counted among them.

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