Refracted Moonlight

From Wind Repertory Project
Zachary Cairns

Zachary Cairns

General Info

Year: 2014
Duration: c. 7:05
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: C. Alan Publications
Cost: $120.00


Full Score
Flute I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III-IV
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
Percussion I-II-III-IV, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Bells
  • Bongos
  • Brake Drum, small and medium
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Marimba
  • Slapstick
  • Snare Drum
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Tom-Tom, low and medium
  • Triangle
  • Vibraphone
  • Xylophone


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

On some level, Refracted Moonlight represents a modernization of Debussy’s famous piano piece, Clair de lune (Suite bergamasque, mvt. 3). Virtually all of the main harmonic and melodic elements of Debussy’s composition are found in mine, but always manipulated and transformed. The title, Refracted Moonlight, gives some clues as to the compositional approach I took. Moonlight refers to Debussy’s Clair de lune (which, of course, is French for “moonlight”). Refracted refers to the phenomenon that is observed when a beam of light changes direction as it passes through a boundary between two media. While I’m certain that my own understanding of refraction is not terribly sophisticated, it is a concept that I have found compositionally suggestive. Simply put, I have tried to pass various melodic fragments, chords, and harmonic progressions from Clair de lune through a sort of musical filter, so that we might be able to hear what they sound like when viewed through a different lens. Due to some of the specific features of various motives of Clair de lune, I have chosen to use three octatonic collections as my filters. An octatonic collection can be thought of as an eight-note scale made up of alternating half and whole steps. So, in a sense, Refracted Moonlight is made up of octatonic renderings of the material of Clair de lune.

Structurally, I have tried to maintain the overall form of Debussy’s work, but with the insertion of a number of octatonic episodes that serve to develop the various motives presented. You will hear a beginning that sounds very much like Debussy, but with some unique harmonic progressions and modulations. After a full ensemble statement of the main theme, the tonal fabric gradually twists and bends its way into full-fledged octatonicism. Here, the low brass introduces a rhythmically altered version of one of the previously stated Clair de lune themes, accompanied by a driving, relentless percussion ostinato. Various motives from the Debussy piece are refracted through the same octatonic lens and are presented on top of this low brass figure. After a tutti passage, the horns take over with the primary theme from Clair de lune, again in an octatonic setting. This builds again to the full ensemble, and then drops down to a small series of woodwind solos on a new theme, not taken strictly from the Debussy, but built from prominent intervals within the piece. A slower octatonic episode follows, with a gradual accelerando to the climax of the piece, where Debussy’s original tonality returns in a triumphant, majestic B-flat major ... but only briefly. Following this, the work concludes with an extremely dissonant and aggressive final statement of the low brass theme from earlier, and a series of eight-note chords punctuated by the percussion.

Refracted Moonlight was composed for, and is dedicated to, Prof. Gary Brandes and the members of the University of Missouri – St. Louis Wind Ensemble. This is a piece on which I began working in July 2013, and finished during December of the same year.I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to conduct the University of Missouri – St. Louis Wind Ensemble in the premiere of Refracted Moonlight on March 5, 2014.

- Program Note by composer


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

Works for Winds by This Composer


  • Zachary Cairns, personal correspondence, August 2018