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Bruce Carlson

Bruce Carlson

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General Info

Year: 1992
Duration: c. 10:00
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Dox Music Publishing
Cost: Score and Parts - Unknown


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Toledo was inspired by three related sources: the famous painting View of Toledo by El Greco; the Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross; and the ruminations on both of the above by the twentieth century Christian monk Thomas Merton. El Greco was a resident of Toledo, Spain, from 1577 until his death in 1614. View of Toledo was painted sometime in the later years of the sixteenth century. At the same time that El Greco was painting in Toledo, St. John of the Cross was imprisoned in the city because of his support for the Carmelite reforms initiated by St. Teresa of Avila, which were vehemently opposed by the senior members of the Order. He was held in a tiny cell, which he called “the belly of the whale,” that was completely dark except for one small, high window. When he escaped, apparently assisted by the Blessed Virgin herself, he had written his Spiritual Canticle, a poem that is widely accepted as superior to all others in the Spanish language.

Merton appears to have been the first scholar to note the connection between these two great artists by remarking that “the belly of the whale” must lie somewhere in the middle of El Greco’s painting. He was also intrigued by the contrast between the two artistic works, which both aspire to God but in very different ways. According to Merton, El Greco’s painting “is very dramatic ... full of spiritual implications ... The dark city surges with life, coordinated by some mysterious, providential upheaval which drives all these masses of stone upward toward heaven, in the clouds of a blue disaster that foreshadows the end of the world ... the movement is a blind upheaval in which earth and sky run off the top of the canvas.” By contrast, St. John’s creation is the result of silence and patience, waiting quietly “for the divine answer that would end this dark night of his soul ... The movement is centripetal [tending toward the centre]. There is tremendous stability, not merely in the soul immobilized, entombed in a burning stone wall, but in the depths of that soul purified by a purgatory ... [and] emerging into the Centre of all centers, the Love which moves the heavens and the stars, the Living God.” Of the Spiritual Canticle itself, Merton wrote:

The joy of this emptiness, this weird neutrality of spirit which leaves the soul detached from the things of the earth and not yet in possession of those of heaven, suddenly blossoms out into a pure paradise of liberty, of which the saint sings in his Spiritual Canticle: it is a solitude full of wild birds and strange trees, rocks, rivers, and desert islands, lions and leaping does. These creatures are images of the joys of the spirit, aspects of interior solitude, fires that flash in the abyss of the pure heart whose loneliness becomes alive with the deep lightnings of God.”

Carison was profoundly moved by the painting, the poem, and Merton’s insight into both. His Toledo is “an attempt to reflect musically various glimpses of the View of Toledo, both as a whole and in its various parts, including that part near the middle of the canvas, a building containing the ten-foot by six-foot dungeon, where the Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross miraculously bloomed.” The work is sectionalized, essentially alternating sections addressing the dramatic, stormy painting and sections concerned with the serene words of the poem. In several cases, sections are named in the score, making it easy to follow the alternation between the two external sources.

Several instruments have important symbolic roles. The high, clear ring of the triangles represents the emergence of the Spiritual Canticle out of the darkness of the dungeon where St. John of the Cross was imprisoned. The piano provides a low-register ostinato, consisting of a tritone, throughout the several sections that address the same idea. Musically this passage contributes rhythmic energy and forward momentum to these sections, but it seems also to represent the pulse of creative life, inextinguishable even in a desperate situation.

Carlson's Toledo (1992) premiered by the John Henderson Junior High Wind Ensemble under the direction of Jeff Kula, was the first work to be commissioned by a Manitoba high school band through the Manitoba Arts Council. Furthermore, it was chosen in 2002 to be the first Canadian work to be included in the publication Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Toledo has been performed internationally including performances in the United States, Hong Kong, Germany and Singapore. In 2007 in the MBM Times music magazine (New York), Toledo was selected to be included on the noted American band conductor Frank Ticheli's list of high-quality band works.

- Program Note from Teaching Music Through Performance in Band


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State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) North Star Campus Band (Lauren Visel, conductor) - 30 November 2022
  • University of British Columbia (Vancouver) Concert Winds (Christian Reardon MacLellan, conductor) – 29 March 2019
  • Georgia Southern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble – 2013

Works for Winds by This Composer


  • Carlson, B. (1992). Toledo: For Concert Band [score]. : Dox Music Publishing Company: Canada.
  • Miles, Richard B., and Larry Blocher. 2002. Teaching Music Through Performance in Band. Volume 4. Chicago: GIA Publications. pp. 222-233.