Symphony No.1 - Timanfaya

I started writing this work back in February without ever expecting a complete symphony. Like the island itself, the music just grew and grew.

At just over 40 minutes long, I don't expect many of our contributors will have the time to visit the whole piece, but for those that do, please enjoy. If you feel there is any merit to the work, please let me know. It's a relief to have finished it at last.

The work forms a large-scale tone poem offering the listener an acoustic exploration of the geographical and cultural history of the volcanic island of Lanzarote, situated nearly 80 miles off the north coast of Africa. It is the fourth largest of the Canary Islands, emerging from the Atlantic Ocean about 15 million years ago after the breakup of the African and the American continental plates.

Each movement explores an event or period in time and hopes to capture the violence of the land, contrasted with the harmonious existence of modern times on the island.

The word Timanfaya is now synonymous with the Parque Nacional de Timanfaya, an expansive landscape of outstanding beauty and desolation. During six years in the 18th Century, 1730 to 1736, more than thirty volcanoes violently exploded, spilling fire, smoke and huge masses of magma onto the surrounding landscape, burying entire villages. Although preparation ensure there were no casualties, almost a quarter of the island became a sea of solidified lava, multicoloured volcanic rocks and copper-coloured sand, with wide areas covered with thick layers of lapilli (coarse ash). For the time being, the area is quite safe, though underneath the surface it is still bubbling.


I - Nacimiento de la tierra             Birth of the Land

Out of a curious ocean, fire rages below. Violent interludes follow the burning rock as it forces its way upwards to form a new and untamed land.


II - Jardín de las Hespérides Garden of the Hespérides

In Greek mythology, the Hespérides were a group of nymphs who were guardians, with the aid of a watchful dragon, of a tree of golden apples in a garden located beyond the Atlas Mountains at the western border of Oceanus, the river encircling the world The long, slow cooling process of a newly formed oceanic island may have been the perfect location for such a garden, particularly the earthly warmth available to any vigilant dragon watching nearby.


III - Furioso             Fury

In the first half of the 1700’s the islands were again torn open. Don Andrés Lorenzo Curbelo, the priest of Yaiza, documented the visibly changing landscape and the destruction of the villages and farms which lay in the way of the lava flows. He, along with his parishioners, witnessed the creation of mountains as the rocks of hell reached for the heavens.


IV - Conquista, fuego y armonía             Conquest, fire and harmony

The island has a long history of settlement, peace and conquest. The perpetual cycle of humanities struggle to maintain unchallenged borders can still visit a land surrounded by ocean. Today, it is peaceful… until El Diablo comes home.

Graeme Helliwell (October 2018)

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  • Hi Graeme, I listened to part 1 here and I think you have done a great job with this. Your structure and orchestration held my attention and the sound quality is good.  I would have included more modernistic drama if it were mine but that is just a thought really.  This has a cinematic quality also which could give it commercial potential.

    Thanks for posting!

  • Many thanks for your kind words. It's great to know that you enjoyed the first movement. The following movements continue to connect the pieces with a final triumphant flourish in the last five minutes which modulates all the earlier themes into major keys.. thanks again and best wishes for your own works.

  • Graeme,

    I am impressed by your organization of these works. The way you classified and made each one to fit the ideas. The detailed descriptions of the feel you wanted in each work. This appears to be two interests of yours converged together. The islands and composition.

    I see compositions as coming from one of two trains of thought. The first being a creation that lets the listener own it for their own imaginary adventures. Some compositions allow for a little crack in the door and let the listener do the rest.

    The second approach is the one you have taken here. The pursuit of constructing not only a set of compositions, but also making the world for the listener to go into in terms of detailed explanations that hopefully conjure the same ideas and impressions you had when making these.

    I must say I occasionally like being led like this as compared to the other method. I have heard other compositions that were  based off of the colors of the rainbow or the seasons. Never in my recollections have I heard anything remotely like this that so closely follows the turbulent history of these islands. 

  • Timothy, I am blown away by your feedback. It makes the whole project worthwhile. Especially as you have described exactly how i hoped the work would be recieved. 

    I'm going to add a copy of the full score as a PDF for anyone who may wish to delve deeper. Won't be home for a couple of days though. 

    P.s. to contribute to the tech debate, this was composed on Finale25 using GPO5 within Finale. Gpo5 offers multiple samples of the same instrument so if you want four simultaneous  trumpets, you can have four different players at the same time. Probably the same on other packages but I only know what I know (for now).

    Best wishes..

  • You should be rightly proud of this Graeme!

    GOP is surely a nice sound set. I haven't used Finale.Just purchased Notion for my iPad because it works well with Studio One. I haven't run Notion through the paces yet.

    Not sure if you've delved into any other sound libraries. East West has a sale on right now . Kirk Hunter has some really nice libraries that are very realistic. The Kontakt factory library sounds much better than some people give it credit for. Spitfire and 8dio are a few others.

    If you want examples of Kontakt, let me know. To use these you would export the notation or midi into a DAW. I can hook you up with a free one that's excellent if interested.Maybe a discussion for a technical thread.

  • I listened to all of Furioso and find it a very compelling piece of music! you have conveyed the terrifying destruction that nature is capable of.  I especially liked the deceptive quiet that literally erupted into a massive explosion at 4:37. Nice work!

  • Thank you Emily. Very kind of you to comment and share your thoughts. I'm finding, through this sort of feedback, that I have achieved my aim of bringing the place to life (before life was in the place). 

    I hope you continue to enjoy the other movements as much.

  • I have listened to first part (12:20), mvmt II is missing or included here?

    Nice work, atmospheric, moving. I think you managed very well to depict the desired scenes. Images appear all the time in my mind.

    Thank you Graeme


  • Kjell

    I have no idea how the second movement dropped off the playlist. Well spotted and thanks for pointing it out. It's such a contrasting movement as well that it definitely needs to be put into the context of the work.

    Thanks for the feedback as well. Enjoy the missing bit!

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