Fred J Allen ‘When the Stars Began to Fall’: A Touching Tribute

Fred J Allen: When the Stars Began to Fall

Context

Subtitled My Lord, What a Mornin’, Fred J. Allen’s arrangement of this anonymous spiritual song has become a staple in most wind orchestra bad rooms. Published in 1992, When the Stars Began to Fall was summed up by the composer as:

 

“One of many anonymous spirituals sung in the fields and in worship by African-American slaves in the 19th century. In this setting, sonorities of the band are utilised that express a longing for the end of time, when there will be no sorrow, no pain. The last line of the refrain serves as the title for this setting.”

 

The Music

Starting quietly, the horns and lower brass present the first theme. The warm sonorities from this section creates a welcoming atmosphere, which the woodwind soon slot in to. The trumpets pick up the theme, and now the mood has changed to be slightly more formal and military. The chorale-like theme is handled gently by Allen, as it is handed around different sections of the ensemble. Throughout the whole piece, the ensemble are heading towards a big climax. So each repeat of the theme is developed somewhat, be it a richer texture, or louder dynamics. 

As the climax draws closer, the trumpet proclamation becomes even more prominent. The use of snare drum and cymbals adds to the military-style that Allen was aiming for. As the peak is reached, the horn and lower woodwind bring the dynamic right back down. This does not last for long, however, as the trumpets enter once more with the percussion and lead the fully-realised theme forward. A second peak is reached, with Allen using chromatic harmony to build the tension. The woodwind brings the dynamic right back down once more, as the warm horns and lower brass play the end of the theme once more. When the Stars Began to Fall ends with a sustained note held by the band. 

 

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy… Derek Bourgeois: Serenade

 

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