An exploration and analysis of William Bolcom's "Black Host"
Gurney, Lois Bertha
Doctor of Musical Arts
Black Host, a work for organ, percussion, and electronic tape, is essentially a dramatic work. The main characters of the drama are two hymn tunes, the Dies Irae and Donne Secours, whose struggle for predominance direct the course of the work. The texts associated with these tunes imply a tension between fear and hope, especially when seen in reference to the title of the work "Black Host." While the focus of the Dies Irae melody is on the interval of a minor third, Donne Secours centers around a major third. Deeper analysis, however, shows that although the hymn melodies have different personalities, they derive from the same dorian mode and are essentially part of one entity. By the end of the work it is clear that these two distinct emotions and motives can exist side by side. The work is couched in eclectic musical language, a combination of styles, genres and gestures drawn from both the Western art music tradition and American popular music. Despite the seemingly unrelated blocks of sound, the work has a flow and a unity that belies its contrasts.