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[#237] February 5, 2024

1993 | Wind Ensemble | Grade 6 | 5' - 10' | Wind ensemble

American composer and educator Julia Wolfe

Arsenal of Democracy, by American composer and educator Julia Wolfe is our Composition of the Week.

The work was written in 1992 and premiered on January 28, 1993, at the “Muziekcentrum De IJsbreker” in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, by Orkest de Volharding; as a corollary of a residency of the composer in that country thanks to a Fullbright Scholarship.

Arsenal of Democracy is a powerful 9-minute-long political statement, scored for:


C Piccolo/Flute; B-flat Soprano Saxophone; E-flat Alto Saxophone; E-flat Baritone Saxophone; C Trumpet I-II-III; Horn in F; Trombone I-II; Bass Trombone; Piano; Bass Guitar


The music is edited by Ricordi, NY, and it is on rental.


“In 1992 I went to live in Amsterdam for a year. It’s so beautiful there and it’s an amazing place to live as an artist. Art is a crucial part of Dutch society. It was an incredible relief to live in that atmosphere. I went to lots of concerts, joined the composers’ ping-pong team, and wrote Arsenal of Democracy. The piece is written for Orkest de Volharding, a political street band started by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen and others. The group is loud and tough, and they’re organized in a socialistic framework — everyone has equal say, everyone arrives at consensus decisions. The title of my piece is taken from a phrase coined by Franklin Roosevelt referring to the United States’ role as an arsenal before fully entering into WWII. In more recent U.S. history this “arsenal of democracy” has reached terrifying and absurd proportions. I imagined that Orkest de Volharding would be a far better arsenal, with trumpets and trombones on the front lines.” Program Notes by Julia Wolfe



“Julia Wolfe’s music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. She draws inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, bringing a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them.”

From composer’s Bio



Dr. Julia Wolfe began to study music seriously only after taking a musicianship class at the University of Michigan, where she received a B.A. in music and theater as a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 1982. In her early twenties, Wolfe wrote music for an all-female theatre troupe.


She went to Yale in 1984 and studied primarily with Martin Bresnick. After receiving her M.M. in 1986, Wolfe, Michael Gordon, and David Lang founded the new music collective Bang on a Can in 1987.


Wolfe received a Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Amsterdam in 1992. In 2012, she received a Ph.D. in composition from Princeton University. She has been a professor of music composition at New York University in the Steinhardt School since 2009, prior to which she was an adjunct professor at the Manhattan School of Music for seven years.


In 2015, Wolfe won the Pulitzer Prize for music for her work Anthracite Fields, and in 2016 she was named a MacArthur Fellowship recipient. In 2018, she was a recipient of an honorary degree from Drew University in New Jersey.


The 2019 world premiere of Fire in my mouth, a large-scale work for orchestra and women’s chorus, by the New York Philharmonic with The Crossing and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, received extensive acclaim. The work is the third in a series of compositions about the American worker.



Other works for winds include:


  • On seven-star-shoes, for woodwind quintet (1985)

  • Cha, for saxophone quartet (2015)

  • Zigzag, for Wind Ensemble (2021)












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