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Hymn to a Blue Hour

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John Mackey

John Mackey

General Info

Year: 2010
Duration: c. 8:15
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Osti Music
Cost: Score and Parts (Purchase) - $195.00   |   Score (Purchase) - $25.00


Full Score
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
Bassoon I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet I-II
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Saxophone (optional, contains Oboe I cues)
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
Bass Trombone
Double Bass
Percussion I, including:

  • Bass Drum


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

The blue hour is an oft-poeticized moment of the day -- a lingering twilight that halos the sky after sundown but before complete darkness sets in. It is a time of day known for its romantic, spiritual, and ethereal connotations, and this magical moment has frequently inspired artists to attempt to capture its remarkable essence. This is the same essence that inhabits the sonic world of John Mackey's Hymn to a Blue Hour.

Programmatic content aside, the title itself contains two strongly suggestive implications -- first, the notion of hymnody, which implies a transcendent and perhaps even sacred tone; and second, the color blue, which has an inexorable tie to American music. Certainly Hymn to a Blue Hour is not directly influenced by the blues, per se, but there is frequently throughout the piece a sense of nostalgic remorse and longing -- an overwhelming sadness that is the same as the typically morose jazz form. Blue also has a strong affiliation with nobility, authority, and calmness. All of these notions are woven into the fabric of the piece -- perhaps a result of Mackey using what was, for him, an unconventional compositional method:

I almost never write music 'at the piano' because I don't have any piano technique. I can find chords, but I play piano like a bad typist types: badly. If I write the music using an instrument where I can barely get by, the result will be very different than if I sit at the computer and just throw a zillion notes at my sample library, all of which will be executed perfectly and at any dynamic level I ask. We spent the summer at an apartment in New York that had a nice upright piano. I don't have a piano at home in Austin -- only a digital keyboard -- and it was very different to sit and write at a real piano with real pedals and a real action, and to do so in the middle of one of the most exciting and energetic (and loud) cities in America. The result -- partially thanks to my lack of piano technique, and partially, I suspect, from a subconscious need to balance the noise and relentless energy of the city surrounding me at the time -- is much simpler and lyrical music than I typically write.

Though not composed as a companion work to his earlier Aurora Awakes, Hymn to a Blue Hour strikes at many of the same chords, only in a sort of programmatic inversion. While Aurora Awakes deals with the emergence of light from darkness, Hymn to a Blue Hour is thematically linked to the moments just after sundown -- perhaps even representing the same moment a half a world away. The opening slow section of Aurora Awakes does share some similar harmonic content, and the yearning within the melodic brushstrokes seem to be cast in the same light.

The piece is composed largely from three recurring motives -- first, a cascade of falling thirds; second, a stepwise descent that provides a musical sigh; and third, the descent's reverse: an ascent that imbues hopeful optimism. From the basic framework of these motives stated at the outset of the work, a beautiful duet emerges between horn and euphonium -- creating a texture spun together into a pillowy blanket of sound, reminiscent of similar constructions elicited by great American melodists of the 20th century, such as Samuel Barber. This melody superimposes a sensation of joy over the otherwise "blue" emotive context -- a melodic line that over a long period of time spins the work to a point of catharsis. In this climactic moment, the colors are at their brightest, enveloping their surroundings with an angelic glow. Alas, as is the case with the magical blue hour, the moment cannot last for long, and just as steadily as they arrived, the colors dissipate into the encroaching darkness, eventually succumbing at the work's conclusion with a sense of peaceful repose.

- Program note by Jake Wallace


State Ratings

  • Texas: IV


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • West Virginia University (Morgantown) Wind Symphony (Scott C. Tobias, conductor) - 26 February 2023
  • University of New Mexico (Albuquerque) Wind Symphony (Brett Penshorn, conductor) - 16 November 2022
  • Florida State University (Tallahassee) Wind Ensemble (Michael Tignor, conductor) - 8 November 2022
  • Ball State University (Muncie, Ind.) Wind Ensemble (Brent Echols, conductor) - 28 October 2022
  • Chesapeake Bay Wind Ensemble (Hampton, Va.) (William Garlette, conductor) - 1 October 2022
  • Chicago Wind Symphony (Chicago, Ill.) (Michael McCain, conductor) - 20 August 2022
  • Kansas State University (Manhattan) Wind Ensemble (Frank Tracz, conductor) - 1 December 2021
  • Rutgers University (New Brunswick, N.J.) Wind Ensemble (Kraig Alan Williams, conductor) - 9 October 2021
  • Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisc.) Symphonic Band (Matthew Arau, conductor) – 7 March 2020
  • Sacramento (Calif.) State University Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Matthew Morse, conductor) – 4 March 2020
  • Appalachian State University (Boone, N.C.) Symphony Band (Kevin Gray Richardson, conductor) – 23 February 2020
  • University of Iowa (Iowa City) Concert Band (Eric Bush, conductor) – 9 December 2019
  • McLennan College (Waco, Tx.) Wind Ensemble (Jon Conrad, conductor) 29 October 2019
  • State University of New York, Fredonia, All College Band (Carrie Pawelski, conductor) – 2 October 2019
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing) Wind Symphony (Kevin Sedatole, conductor) – 26 September 2019
  • Mississippi Wind Symphony (Jackson) (Craig Young, conductor) - 25 June 19
  • William & Mary University (Williamsburg, Va.) Wind Ensemble (Richard Marcus, conductor) – 29 March 2019
  • Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) Wind Symphony (Don L. Peterson, conductor) – 15 February 2019
  • University of Cincinnati (Ohio) College-Conservatory of Music Wind Ensemble (Thomas Gamboa, conductor) – 28 November 2018
  • University of Oregon (Eugene) Wind Symphony (Nicholas Soenyun, conductor) – 26 October 2018
  • Kennesaw (Ga.) State University Wind Symphony (Debra Traficante, conductor) – 10 October 2018
  • Capitol Symphonic Winds (Hartford, Conn.) (Gary L. Partridge, conductor) – 9 May 2018

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works


  • Carter, Scott. "Hymn to a Blue Hour." In Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 9, edit. & comp. by Richard Miles, 558-567. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2013.
  • Perusal score