The seventeen-minute work for symphony orchestra and mixed SATB festival chorus was premiered at the University of Kentucky on November 30, 1999 at UK's Singletary Center for the Fine Arts. Choral Fantasia on Deep River is the fifth movement of Calvin Taylor's Sunrise Symphony.
The orchestral score calls for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, suspended cymbal, tambourine, tam-tam, triangle, harp, mixed SATB festival choir, and strings.
Supplementary to the American spiritual, Deep River, there are two additional themes which pervade the clearly-delineated sectional form of the work. The introduction (Andante moderato ed appassionato, 4/4) opens with the first, an ominous minor subject in the 'cellos and basses. Melodic fragments of Deep River foreshadow the choir's entrance. At the moment the words "where all is peace" are sung, the foreboding first theme reenters as menacing counterpoint.
The second theme, a lilting melody for oboe, follows immediately in the section marked Più mosso. Pizzicato strings and triangle enhance the syncopation by stressing offbeats. The harmonies and melodic flow, almost entirely pentatonic, suggest a joyful assembly. The bright, second theme in major, as with the earlier Deep River melody, is once again interrupted by theme one. The conflict between supplementary themes grows more intense until the choir offers a more hopeful message, “I want to cross over into campground.” Partially transformed into major, the first theme leads to a Tranquillo choral passage based on models found in the cantatas of J. S. Bach.
The melody of Deep River and theme two victoriously take the ascendancy, along with the formerly-threatening theme one as melodic and pedal point support. It is significant that a major fragmental block of theme one (the entire second measure) which appeared previously to be so much at odds is in fact identical in rhythmic form and melodic shape to the noncombative Deep River motive. All three themes, then, were intrinsically bound together, and triumphantly emerge at long last, fully healed, harmonious, and unified.
Calvin Taylor / O-412 / SATB / 32 pages