(Skip this if you don't like to read about the music you listen to).
An explanation of the techniques and materials of this work. It is for large orchestra. The opening passage begins with solo harp, playing a mysterious chord, which is expanded into a motif, and played successively by the harp itself, and then woodwinds, percussion and brass (0:00-1:00)
The woodwinds then take up the first several bars of the national anthem of Ukraine (1:08), which is slightly modulated. Undercurrents in the strings hint at trouble to come. What follows is a struggle between various expressions of the first portion of the Ukrainian anthem and the Russian national anthem, symbolizing the struggle of the two nations over the sovereignty of Ukraine itself. Brass play in one key, and strings play in another key, different lines of the anthem of Ukraine, to suggest the stress of the dual nature of the nation, torn between East and West. The Russian anthem is played, at first, mostly by brass instruments, trumpets and horns, slightly out of key with glissandi, to suggest its adverse impact on Ukrainian life, in the current crisis. Sometimes it is played by piano and percussion, with an ironic division in the harmonic lines expressing the ambiguity of a mixed quasi-heroic and mock heroic sentiment. Reassertions of the Ukrainian anthem are unconvincing and also ironic, as that collection of motifs becomes more divided and dissonant. Uncertainty is both compounded and held at bay by a restatement of the initial opening theme of the work (2:27).
The technique overall is polytonal with modulations, in the manner of Darius Milhaud or early Prokofiev; there is no pan-tonality (atonality) or use of unconventional key signatures. To this extent the work might be said to be fairly conservative, although there is frequent pitch bending, as evidenced by the initial and successive statements of the Russian anthem especially with the brass.
Other national anthems are blended in, one after the other, to represent the influence of certain European nations in the crisis: the French Marseillaise (which becomes a kind of malaise), the German and Polish anthems are featured in order and parts of these are weaved in and out of the struggle between the two main contenders: the Russian and Ukrainian themes. This trio of France, Germany and Poland is featured to represent the attempt of those three nations foreign ministers to negotiate an agreement between the pro-Russian and pro-Western factions, that took place on February 21, 2014.
The Marseillaise and Ukrainian anthem are played simultaneously (3:15), in different keys, by the flute and other woodwind instruments, with force, but without any obvious aggression, in a brief and soft polytonal sequence (3:50). The mood changes abruptly, when shortly thereafter, the French anthem is asserted, with a plethora of resulting distortions: tone glides in the violins, displaced rhythms and melodic statements echoing, and divisions between main melodic lines and harmonizing lines, as they drift apart -- and as the Ukrainian anthem is drowned out, but gradually tries to rise above the Gallic cacophony.
Various nations (via the power, instrumentation, and loudness or pitch of the melodic lines) attempt to assert their influence or power over the Ukrainian theme, or parts of the theme, as it tries to reassert itself, against and in relationship to the force of Western and Eastern melodic and tonal pressure.
This pressure is asserted vertically (harmonically) and horizontally (in time) throughout the work. This eight-minute section ends with the Ukrainian anthem only weakly asserting itself through the cellos over the interfering Polish anthem, which symbolizes both the intervention of the Polish foreign minister and the influence of the supposed “Polish economic model,” which is supposed to solve Ukraine’s financial woes (7:32-8:09).
The “German passage” is sandwiched between the French and Polish portions, and foreshadowed by two brief allusions (6:36 & 6:52) to the theme Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles, in the midst of a tonal conflict between Ukrainian and Russian themes (5:00- 7:00).