Mr. Milne has three primary objectives in his choice of music:
- To accurately depict the scene on stage musically.
- To please the audience.
- To please the artists performing it: the orchestra musicians and singers.
Mr. Milne has always felt that music is timeless: good styles never fail to please and good styles never wear out. Music should be seamless, something the listener can grasp onto without fear of "not understanding it." Music should be something that's felt within the listener, not jarring and distracting. Music should be something that will carry the action of the moment, and that the listeners will want to hear again and again, possibly even singing the melodies to themselves all the way home.
Yet within these confines, Mr. Milne has achieved some things that, to our knowledge, have never been done before. For instance, the haunting, beautiful love song between Brom Bones and Katrina, with the spiritual lute player strumming in the background, brings tears to the eyes. All who have heard it want to hear again and again, not knowing and not caring that it contains an astonishing musical sleight of hand we've never seen before - it's in three different meters at once. During a chaotic break in the picnic scene, the lute player (a spirit) suddenly appears behind the others. Then, while he strums in 3/4 time, Katrina sings across the stage to Brom in 4/4 time; and he sings back to her in 5/4 time. All of this at once flows effortlessly to create this gripping scene, and the listener is able to follow all three lines with ease. In the words of conductor Barnaby Palmer, "Bob, how did you do this?"
Mr. Milne was an excellent French horn player in his youth, performing with two major east coast symphonies by the time he was 19. This is the reason we find one of the wildest French horn solos we've ever seen or heard in the overture to this opera. With the chorus singing about "never venture to the woods" (words printed above), a horn is heard wailing from far back in the woods. It seems to have nothing to do with the chorus, as if it's out there on its own somehow. The horn roars up to high notes, then blasts out bass notes. Then it loops into weird horn calls that are in different keys from the singers, as if it couldn't care less about what's on stage. Eventually, as the overture closes, the horn sinks down to the lowest notes of all. The next time it plays anything of the like is late in the opera, when Ichabod Crane finds himself out in the woods with a fearsome presence.
[Note: Scene IV begins with a singing lesson held in the church. The people are practicing scales and arpeggios as they wait for Crane to arrive. One person is singing, to the melody of Mozart's 1st horn concerto, "I played the horn when I was very young, and dreamed of being in the operas..."]
The music to this opera was described by Peter Benecke, retired tenor from the Dusseldorf Opera House, as follows: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a great, lush, romantic opera. It should be on every opera stage in the world."
A cross section of people who have heard this work have offered comments for this page, ranging from major conductors to average opera goers. A short list follows.
Samuel Cristler: (former associate conductor Metropolitan Opera, and others around the world)
Barnaby Palmer: (conductor and music director San Francisco Lyric Opera)
"Robert Milne is a national musical treasure. With the creation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Milne deserves to be considered in the company of an Aaron Copland or Leonard Bernstein; one of the truly great American composers." -Barnaby Palmer
Lynn Evans: (music lover)
A group of us were privileged to watch this opera on a large TV screen during Bob's concert tour to our area last year. The intriguing theme and the haunting music kept us fascinated. The music was so moving that during the dance scene we came out of our chairs and started dancing! Having the opera written in English made it extremely enjoyable and we remained riveted throughout the presentation. Again, proof that Bob Milne is a genius with profound musical abilities.