The White Raven


piano solo, 2 Flutes, (2d fl doubles piccolo); 2 oboes (2d doubles English horn); 2 clarinets (2d doubles Bs. Cl.),  bassoon, contrabassoon,  2 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, percussion (3 players), harp, celesta, strings, (optional SATB chorus)



Lehigh University Choral Arts
Steven Sametz, director
Eugene Albulescu, piano
April, 2005

Lehigh University Choral Arts
Steven Sametz, director
Eugene Albulescu, piano
April, 2005

Full Score & Parts on Rental, ECS
Choral Score ECS No. 6928

Program Notes

Many stories start “once upon a time.”  This story starts at the beginning of time.

The Tlingit people of southeastern Alaska have a legend that starts when the world lay in darkness. The Creator, Grandfather of the river Nas (Nâs-cA’kî-yêl) kept the stars, the moon, and the sun in three boxes in his house at the head of the river. The White Raven – a trickster figure in Tlingit culture – went to the Grandfather Creator and asked to see the sun, moon and stars.  When he was refused, the White Raven contrived a scheme to get the light of the heavens from the Grandfather.

The Grandfather had a beautiful daughter who was guarded by the Medicine Man.  Each morning, the Medicine Man would check her drinking water from the river to make sure it was pure.  White Raven, seeing this, turned himself into pine needles and floated down the river.  When the daughter drank the water with the pine needles in it, she became pregnant and after a time gave birth to a little Boy, the White Raven in disguise.  The Boy, knowing how his Grandfather would dote on him, asked to see the box of stars.  At first the Grandfather refused, but such was his love for his grandson that he relented and let him play with the box of stars.  The Boy opened the box wide and all the stars flew up to the heavens.  The Grandfather quickly closed the star box, but it was too late. The stars shone bright above.

After a time, the Boy asked his Grandfather to let him open the moon box.  The Grandfather refused, so the Boy went to his mother.  As he was quite persistent and cannily persuasive, she relented and opened the box. The moon rose up into the sky and joined the stars.  Grandfather, seeing this, was furious and slammed the moon box shut – but too late.  The moon was in the heavens.

When the Boy asked Grandfather to see the sun box, Grandfather posted the Medicine Man to stand guard.  But the Boy knew charms that made the Medicine Man fall into a deep sleep. As the Boy opened the last box, the sun blazed forth and the world was filled with light.

Grandfather angrily came in to behold the sun in the sky.  He turned to his grandson, who suddenly cast off his human form, revealing himself as the White Raven.  With a cry, he rose into the heavens with the sun.  The Medicine Man, wakened by the cry, quickly used the smoke still coming from the sun box to send a curse up into the sky that would turn the white raven black. Which is why today the Raven is black.

The legend of the White Raven has many levels.  Like Prometheus, Raven gives light to mankind.  In Tlingit tradition, it is also about becoming consciously aware of life, a union of the creator’s light with humanity.  But heavenly knowledge exacts a price, and Raven’s becoming black is analogous to Adam’s Biblical fall from grace, cast out from the Garden of Eden.

The White Raven is set as a ballet-concerto for piano, orchestra, and chorus. The story is set so that each character can be heard in the music: the Grandfather in a heavy-footed four-note motive frequently assigned to contrabassoon and timpani; the Raven in a playful series of ascending and descending thirds which permeates the texture throughout; the daughter is portrayed in a lyrical, rhapsodic theme developed in the piano solo.  Each of the celestial objects – stars, moon, and sun – is presented in a musical interlude where the chorus is introduced singing on Tlingit words for starlight, moonlight, and sunlight. The star interlude is characterized by delicate wind writing, the moon by slowly ascending textures in pulsating rhythms and the sun by blazing brass.

Like Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, The White Raven may be performed without chorus, although the chorus adds considerably to the overall color and is part of the original conception of the work.

My thanks to Eugene Albulescu, a great talent and something of a trickster himself, who asked me to write for him and to Dr. Nadine Sine, Chair of the Department of Music, for her continued enthusiastic support for the creation of new music at Lehigh University.



The text for the (optional) chorus is taken from Tlingit words for “sun, moon, stars”