program notes by composition > W > Where Never Lark or Eagle Flew

Where Never Lark or Eagle Flew

James Curnow

Where Never Lark or Eagle Flew is an overture inspired by “High Flight”, a poem written by a young American volunteer pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII. John Gillespie Magee, Jr., who flew high-performance Spitfire fighters, perished in a mid-air collision at the age of 19. His famous sonnet is now the official poem of the RCAF and RAF and must be recited from memory by freshman cadets at the USAF Academy:

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark, or even eagle flew;
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Opening trumpet fanfares build into a full bodied introduction before the horns present the first heroic theme and then a soaring second theme that reflects Mr. Magee’s enthusiasm for flying. The beautiful middle section, with a plain and lovely melody, offers reflection before soft playing of the percussion returns the first themes as the piece races to an end.

Composer James Curnow (b.1943) was educated at Wayne State and Michigan State universities. He taught in public schools and several universities. Long affiliated with the Salvation Army where he played euphonium, Curnow has published hundreds of original works and arrangements for band.

Last updated on July 9, 2013 by Palatine Concert Band