Interview with Johan de Meij by Anthony Fiumara
‘You are working on a 45-minute symphony for wind orchestra? Forget it, nobody is going to play that.’
Some 30 years ago, when Johan de Meij conceived the idea to write his first symphony, many people advised against it. The fact that it would be his Opus 1 also did not inspire much confidence. After 25 years, thousands of performances and dozens of recordings, we now know that those friendly warnings were totally off the mark. In one fell swoop, his Symphony No. 1, The Lord of the Rings, made de Meij's name world renowned as a top composer for wind orchestra, a rank he retains to this day with his later symphonies and other works. In an interview with his colleague and good friend Anthony Fiumara, the composer looks back on one of the most successful musical works ever written. What gave Johan de Meij the idea to put Tolkien's epic novel to music? How did he proceed? Did he find his voice the moment he started to compose? And finally, what are his thoughts about his ‘first-born’ with the benefit of 25 years of hindsight?
Johan de Meij’s first symphony “The Lord of the Rings” is based on the trilogy of that name by J.R.R. Tolkien. This book has fascinated many millions of readers since its publication in 1955. The symphony consists of five separate movements, each illustrating a personage or an important episode from the book.
The movements are:
I. GANDALF (The Wizard)
II. LOTHLORIEN (The Elvenwood)
III. GOLLUM (Sméagol)
IV. JOURNEY IN THE DARK
a. The Mines of Moria
b. The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm
The symphony was written in the period between March 1984 and December 1987, and had its première in Brussels on 15th March 1988, performed by the “Groot Harmonieorkest van de Gidsen” under the baton of Norbert Nozy. In 1989, The Symphony The Lord of the Rings was awarded a first prize in the Sudler International Wind Band Composition Competition in Chicago, and a year later, the symphony was awarded by the Dutch Composers Fund. In 2001, the orchestral version was premiered by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.
Although it is not simple to summarize such an extensive and complex work, the main outline is als follows: the central theme is the Ring, made by primaeval forces that decide the safety or destruction of the World. For years it was the possesion of the creature Gollum, but when the Ring falls into the hands of the Hobbits the evil forces awake and the struggle for the Ring commences. There is but one solution to save the World from disaster: the Ring must be destroyed by the fire in which it was forged: Mount Doom in the heart of Mordor, the country of the evil Lord Sauron.
It is the Hobbit Frodo who is assigned to carry out this task, and to assist him a company, the Fellowship of the Ring, is formed under the leadership of Gandalf, the wizard, which includes the Hobbits Sam, Peregrin and Merin, the Dwarf Gimli, the Elf Legolas, Boromir and Aragorn, the later King. The Companions are secretly followed by Gollum, who does not shun any means, however perfidious, to recover his priceless Ring. However, the Companions soon fall apart, after many pernicious adventures and a surprising dénouement Frodo and Sam can at last return to their familiar home, The Shire.