Instrumentation: wind ensemble
Duration: ca. 28:00
Year of Completion: 2006
Stephen King's seven-volume The Dark Tower series tells the tale of Roland, the last gunslinger, and his quest to reach the tower amidst a field of roses in order to save his world from certain destruction. Based upon Robert Browning's poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, King's work on The Dark Tower spans the length of his career from age nineteen to the publication of the final novel in 2004. Book one - The Gunslinger - introduces readers to Roland and his pursuit of the mysterious man in black through a ghost town and across a vast desert, finally catching up with him after a wild chase through an underground railroad system. These events from book one are the inspiration behind The Last Gunslinger, a programmatic symphony for wind band in four movements representing four major sections of the novel.
Three important themes make up the musical content of the work; Roland's theme, the man in black, and the folk song "Careless Love" that King uses throughout the series as Roland thinks of his first true love. Movement one introduces Roland with a motif mixing both major and minor modes, a reflection of his duality between hero and villain as he slaughters an entire town on his search for the man in black. An ominous descending motif represents the man in black and the corruption that he spreads as he flees from Roland, and the first verse of "Careless Love" appears as counterpoint to both of these themes. Classical sonata form provides the structure for thematic development, but tonal areas are used freely and liberally throughout the movement.
"Desert" begins with shimmering woodwinds and brass as Roland begins to feel the effects of exposure to intense sun and dehydration. The English Horn introduces thematic material unique to the movement that depicts Roland's mule who has been ridden to exhaustion. After a middle section based on Roland's theme in counterpoint with the man in black, echoes of the mule theme are heard as Roland takes his last few steps before falling unconscious.
Movement three introduces Jake to Roland's quest, a boy who lived in New York and died in 1977 only to find himself thrust into the middle of the desert in Roland's world. Jake's thematic material is an inversion of the theme used for the man in black, as his character provides Roland with strength and love rather than corruption and deceit. An energetic middle section depicts the swirling New York atmosphere as Jake tells Roland of the world where he lived before awaking in the desert.
"Under the Mountain" is a swift finale in sonata-rondo form, combining all of the major themes presented in the previous movements in canonic fashion as Roland and Jake ride a railroad handcar through the dark. Faced with the choice of renouncing his quest or letting Jake die to continue towards the tower, Roland lets the boy fall into an abyss. Jake leaves him with the phrase, "Go then, there are other worlds than these," and Roland finally catches the man in black. After a recapitulation of the opening material and overlapping of Roland's theme with the man in black, a final forte statement of Roland's theme closes the work.