Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

The Odyssey (Smith)

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The Odyssey Symphony is Robert W. Smith's second symphonic band symphony. Smith had studied both the Odyssey and Dante's Divine Comedy at Troy University.


The symphony contains, in total, four movements, each being noted for having intricate and imaginitive percussive and wind effects. They are as follows:

Movement One: "The Iliad"

Subtitled " the 10th Year of the Trojan War", this piece retells the story of the incredible victory of the Greeks against the Trojans, using the famous "Trojan Horse". The movement opens with call-and-response horn duet and motif that is prominent in both this and the fourth movement. This quickly broadens into a majestic fanfare, another recurring theme in the piece, which in reality serves as a sort of theme for Odysseus. The final sustained note of the fanfare decrescendoes into yet another motif: a flute/horn duet backed by a harp (usually on synthesizer), playing their own call-and-response/echo theme. The full band returns with the fanfare before entering an aggressive section: the woodwinds play rapid alternating triplet patterns while the brass re-enter with an entirely new, even more menacing theme. This new theme reaches its climax and quickly repeats its first part before a rapid woodwind descent which sets the tone for the second part of the movement, "The Trojan Horse". Like in many of his pieces, Smith has used unusual percussion instruments and effects to achieve a certain mode and image. In this piece, he has instructed the cymbal players to grind the edge of one cymbal into the inner dome of the other, producing the sound of the squeaky wheel. While the Greeks wheel the horse into the city, the flute/duet melody returns briefly, highlighted by an ominous clarinet choir. The music eventually fades away, and a second effect initiates: The "Fire" effect involves members of the band crinkling paper gently while brake drums provoke a sword fight. The "fire" quickly spreads across the band, eventually coming to the crescendo which reintroduces the "Aggressive" theme, albeit with more triumphant feel. This slightly-modified theme brings the band to its final, victorious climax. If the band is transitioning to movement II, "The Winds of Poseidon", an optional fine is supplied, in which the flute/horn duet is repeated one more time with a different ending.

Movement Three: "The Isle of Calypso"

This movement picks up with Odysseus lamenting as he is stranded on the strange island belonging to the goddess Calypso. Here, he can have anything he wants, even immortality, but he is never truly happy, as he remembers that he promised his beloved Penelope that they would grow old and die together. After a full year, Zeus and Hermes finally persuade the saddened Calypso to let Odysseus go free, so that he can once more rule Ithaca. This song captures the hero's woes during his time on the island.

This lyrical piece, the emotional climax of the symphony, opens with a special "Clock" effect, which can be achieved in various ways (knocking pieces of wood back and forth against each other, amplifying the sounds of a real antique clock, etc.). A prominent cymbal scrape leads to the entrance of an Ocean drum, while the piano begins the background theme. A mournful English Horn solo introduces the main theme of the piece, and is soon joined by a euphonium duet and the rest of the winds. The song reaches a fake climax, before descending back into the original English Horn melody. A flashback to the flute/horn duet in the first movement is featured, and this leads into the buildup of the band. Finally, the climax is reached, with "soaring" woodwind lines coupled by the brass/saxophone solo. The band joins together for a final melancholy re-statement of the English horn solo, which resumes after a dramatic fermata. Finally, this, too, lets go, and all that is left is the waves lapping on the shore (the ocean drum) the clock ticking away (the "Clock" effect) and the tolls of the clock bells (these can either be made by tubular bells, handbells, a synthesizer, or cut helium tanks).

Movement Four: Ithaca

The final movement of Symphony No. 2 sharply contrasts "The Isle of Calypso" in various ways, bringing about a conclusion to the work. The piece opens with a tense, suspenseful piano/chimes/triangle trio, interrupted at certain points by the return of the English Horn from movement 3. After a few seconds, the tense mood subsides as the ocean drums enter and a horn duo repeat the motif that opened the symphony itself. However, this familiarity subsides almost as quickly as the tenseness of the opening, giving way to a dramatic brass melody. The horns continue this melody, accentuated by blasts from the rest of the band, and then all parts crescendo into the upbeat, adventurous first section. This section is made even more epic by the fact that various parts pass the melodies between them, from the horns and saxophones to the oboes to the euphoniums. The entire section is constantly punctuated by "biting" brass lines and unique flute/piccolo melodies which soar over the rest of the melodies and draw them back into the original dramatic theme. Finished off by a triumphant, very short fanfare, the sections decrescendo much like they did in movements 1 and 2 as the piece enters its second section. Smith uses a spring drum, wind wands, and wind whistles to simulate the sound of a bow being strung and arrows being released, all topped off by repetitions of "Odysseus' Theme" (the horn duet). As the winds whistles and wind wands continue playing, bodhráns and brake drums simulate the sounds of battle, which lead into the third section. The third section begins with a repeat of the "Aggressive" theme, once again modified, from the first movement. Although the brass play a melody reminiscent of the first part of the song, a series of chromatic triplets lead the band back into the "Victorious" theme from movement 1. As the chimes mimic the sound of "all the bells of Ithaca", the roaring fanfare that originally opened the symphony returns to close it, with a modified ending in which the whole band brings the song to a roaring conclusion.

Percussive Effects

  1. The Iliad
    The "Fire" effect
  2. The Winds of Poseidon
    "Siren" effect
  3. The Isle of Calypso
  4. Ithaca


The Odyssey (Smith) Wikipedia