Grendel’s Soliloquy

by Frederick Frahm. A concerto movement for violin and organ, existed in sketches for many years before completion in 2013. A first version of the score (2000) was for piano and viola solo. The final version, expanded and recast for violin and chamber orchestra, is performed today using the composer’s transcription of the accompaniment for organ solo.

The music, in sonata-allegro form, took its inspiration from the 1971 novel by John Gardner. In Gardner’s text, Grendel, the beast in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, tells the story from his perspective. At one point in the novel, Grendel philosophically considers the nature of the humans in the mead hall who hate and fear him–while he stills desire to eat them, he is intrigued by their humanity and is compelled by being witness to their accomplishments:

“Balance is everything, riding out time like a helmless sheepboat, keel to hellward, mast upreared to prick out Heaven’s eye. …My enemies define themselves (as the dragon said) on me. As for myself, I could finish them off in a single night, pull down the great carved beams and crush them in the meadhall, along with their mice, their tankards and potatoes–yet I hold back. I am hardly blind to the absurdity. Form is function. What will we call the wrecker when all has been wrecked?…”

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