The Death of the Kings

for 11 instruments

James Erber

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for 11 instruments

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Composer James Erber
Year of Composition 2007
Duration 11'30"
Forces ob, ca, cl, bcl, hn, tba, strings (
Categories (all composers)
Catalogue ID ce-je1tdotk1


The Death of the Kings was originally written in 2007 for an ensemble consisting of soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet in Bb, bass clarinet in Bb, horn, tuba, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. In 2018 I revised the piece quite radically, rewriting the saxophone parts for oboe and cor anglais.

Gershom Scholem has written that, in Kabbalah, creation was “not always understood as a single, uninterrupted, straightforward process. In other views of the process of emanation and creation, a vital role was played by the midrashic legend concerning the worlds which were created and destroyed before the creation of our present world”. In the 12th century Sefer ha-zohar, these earlier, unsuccessful worlds are called “the Kings of Edom” or “the Primeval Kings”, in reference to a passage mysteriously inserted into Genesis 36, which lists the lineage of the eight Kings of Edom.

The Zoharic concept of unsuccessful attempts at creation underlies The Death of the Kings. In a more expanded version of the structural failure which informs my short piano piece Fluctuations (1999-2018), none of its three sections is able to coalesce, and each passes on its burden of failure to the next section. Finally, at the end of the last section, the burden is too great. A continuation is not possible, and the piece simply dissolves into silence, while the solo cor anglais (like the voice of God at the end of Karl Kraus’ Die letzten Tage der Menschheit) provides a commentary on the inevitable dissolution.

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