Scenes From Deep Time

ENS.2018.4 |
2 Piccolos, 4 Flutes, 2 Oboes, Eb Clarinet, 3 Clarinets, Bass Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet, 2 Bassoons, Soprano Sax, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax, 4 Horns, 4 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Bass Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba, Timpani, 4 Percussion


1. Precambrian

2. Paleozoic

3. Mesozoic

4. Cenozoic

The idea that animals unknown to us lived and died in the past long before the advent of humanity—the very concept of extinction—was new to the people of the nineteenth century, and with new ideas must come new ways of picturing those ideas. Martin Rudwick’s wonderful book Scenes From Deep Time traces the development of the ways in which the Victorians imagined the prehistoric past, from the lumbering dinosaur sculptures crafted by Benjamin Waterhouse to the fierce illustrations depicting battling ocean reptiles red in tooth and claw such as that found on the cover of this edition.

A symphony for band in four movements, Scenes From Deep Time covers the entire vast history of animal life on Earth in a little more than twenty eventful minutes. Beginning with the advent of multicelluar life in the Precambrian, the opening movement moves briskly through a variety of contrasting ideas, a musical Cambrian Explosion. In the scherzo, Paleozoic, ocean life abounds. Skittering trilobites, toothsome sharks, and fish of every variety are depicted in a quadruple hocket as brightly colored ideas bounce energetically around the ensemble. Mesozoic is a slow movement; the dinosaurs imagined by the Victorians were not the swift predators we know today, but slow, awkward beasts shambling through a soggy terrain of marshes and bogs, and the music follows suit, darting pterodactyls hovering above meandering herbivores. With the finale, Cenozoic, we finally reach the modern age, as shrieking trumpets and pounding drums sound the ravages of man, all the ideas from the previous movements thrown together into a blazing whirlwind, bringing Scenes From Deep Time to a dramatic conclusion.