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The Hymn of Ys

By Harrison J. Collins


For Concert Band

Grade 4





The Hymn of Ys (pronounced "ease") was commissioned by my high school assistant band director, LeAndre Benton, who has been a strong supporter of my music for as long as we've known each other. For this piece, his request was simple: take a theme from a well-known piece and turn it into a chorale. The Hymn of Ys, at its core, is that - a chorale. Using the themes from Debussy's famous piano prelude, The Engulfed Cathedral, the hymn is also a fantasy that explores the legend of the City of Ys, the same legend that Debussy first explored.

Summed up, the legend of Ys goes as follows: a great king, Gradlon, and his queen lived at sea, where the queen gave birth to a daughter, Dahut. They lived happily for some time, but the queen eventually fell ill and passed away. King Gradlon fell into a depression, and soon after moved back to land with his daughter. Dahut, now grown, yearned for life at sea again, and one day asked her father to build her a city at sea so that she may live there once more. The king built his daughter a magnificent city, called it the city of Ys, surrounded by a large dike to protect it from the waters. The city quickly grew and prospered but, under the influence of Dahut, became dark and sinful. Every night, Dahut would tempt a new man into her quarters and then murder him. One night, a mysterious knight visited Dahut, convincing her to steal Gradlon’s key to the city’s dike. While King Gradlon slept, she did so and gave the key to the knight. The knight unlocked the dike, revealing himself to be the devil. The sea quickly began to destroy the great city, awakening Gradlon. Unaware of the cause, Gradlon took his beloved daughter and attempted to escape the city on horseback. The sea itself stopped the king, telling him what Dahut had done. Having realized his daughter's betrayal, Gradlon cast her into the sea and escaped. The City of Ys was destroyed and sunken by the water, and Dahut was taken with it.

As the legend goes, one can still hear the sounds of the city emanating from the deep waters. The Hymn of Ys is imagined as a hymn one could hear from the great cathedrals of Ys. Along with a few sneaky references to La Mer, the piece also uses the theme of Debussy's The Girl with the Flaxen Hair - which may be seen as the mark left upon the songs of the cathedrals by Dahut herself, the misguided princess of Ys, cast into the deep.