The Lay of Beowulf

Date of Graduation

Spring 2007


Master of Music



Committee Chair

John Prescott


he Lay of Beowulf is a five-movement work for chorus and orchestra composed as an exploration of the relationship between music and narrative. The primary goal was to apply compositional techniques using the combined forces of the chorus and the orchestra to convey the story of Beowulf musically. Each of the five movements focuses on a pivotal event in the Beowulf story. The first movement serves as a prologue setting the scene for the first part of the story. It also introduces thematic material that returns throughout the work. The second movement, Beowulf and Grendel, begins with the introduction of the first antagonistic force, Grendel, followed by the arrival of Beowulf. Themes for each of these characters are presented in various voices and forms as the work blends the chorus and orchestra with passages for solo tenor. The third movement, The Lament of Grendel's Mother, is much slower and more subdued work featuring solo soprano. Unlike the conflict between Grendel's mother and Beowulf presented in the text, this movement imagines a scene that could precede that conflict in which Grendel's mother mourns the loss of her son and resolves to avenge him. The fourth movement, Beowulf and Dragon, is much like the second in its construction, but there is a more sobering sense of tragedy as it is here that choice and fate finally collide and descend upon the hero. The final movement, Elegy For a Fallen King, depicts Beowulf's Funeral. A slow and somber finale, it features solo tenor accompanied by a repeated solo horn line and sustained string accompaniment. The movement and work as a whole fade away with a solemn final line for solo soprano set against sparse string accompaniment with choral repetition of the phrase "Beowulf the Geat" in Anglo-Saxon.


Beowulf, Anglo-Saxon, chorus, orchestra, composition

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© Arden Reed Roye