Listening Page #54: Robert Denham

APRIL 26, 2009

Robert Denham: Goldgräber, performed by Timothy Lees, violin


While “Goldgräber” does not employ any sort of extra-musical visual element, it is nevertheless a pictorial work in the sense that its structure represents a musical collage or, as it is traditionally classified, a form based on the principle of variation.  The concept is similar to that of a painter experimenting with colors and effects by “borrowing” a given subject and juxtaposing it with backgrounds that are foreign to the essence of the original material.  In this case, the “material” is represented by the first twelve measures of the Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra by E. W. Korngold. Though Korngold’s work is never overtly stated in “Goldgräber” and may even appear to be completely absent from the variations that supposedly rely on it, its influence is essential to the very inspiration of the latter.

I believe that a visual understanding of the musical structure of “Goldgräber” is essential to the listener’s comprehension of the work as a whole. The work is a set of variations where the “theme” is never actually stated, although the overall form can also be understood as an arch where the “keystone” or symmetrical axis occurs in the most romantically inclined variation, (and therefore that variation which I think most closely resembles Korngold’s style), No. 5.  There are a total of nine variations, each preceded by an interlude; and this complete set being preceded and succeeded by an introduction and finale.  The interludes work on an arch principle that is separate to themselves; a harmonic “wedge” that proceeds inward towards the keystone variation (5), and then another wedge that expands outward towards the finale.

This piece was written for and premiered by Timothy Lees, Concertmaster of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; I am grateful to him for the generous time and effort he has put into its performance.


I was raised in a Christian home and came to believe in Jesus Christ when I was about four years old.  I understood that I was a sinner, that my sin separated me from God, and that God had given his Son as atonement for my sin.  As I grew older, my understanding of God’s word and its significance in my life also grew.  Even at a young age, I realized the truth that I am incapable of earning my salvation; it is a free gift of God, not of works, and not something that I can boast to have had a hand in (Eph. 2: 8-9).  I am often tempted to see my own testimony as being lackluster, since it does not involve a dramatic prodigal son type of experience, but I am always reminded that there is nothing commonplace about a sovereign God drawing a helpless sinner to Himself; whether He chooses to do so during the early, middle, or late stages of that sinner’s life.

I remember specific times where God challenged me in my faith and brought me closer to Himself. One of these was when I applied for admission into the 8th grade at a Christian school in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The application required me to provide a written testimony, something that I had never been asked to do.  As I pondered what it meant to be a Christian I was convicted that I really took much of my faith for granted; often trusting more in the stability of my family than in the inspired word of God for my hope and security.  Through writing my testimony I came to further understand the significance of what it means to be a believer in Jesus Christ; to be a follower of Him, to know that I am not my own but am a purchased possession, and to see my guilt as no longer belonging to me, but being transferred to the sacrificial lamb of God (Rom. 8: 1-4).  This was a real milestone for me, and it was at this point that I recommitted myself to follow after Jesus Christ with my whole heart, soul, and might. Soon after graduating from high school I transferred to Biola University where I was challenged to come to a more personal understanding of the scriptures.  By this I mean that I was encouraged to make a distinct break from simply trusting in a Christian academic atmosphere to tell me what I should believe, and to start searching and processing the scriptures as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11).  One class in particular, a course in Christian apologetics, was extremely helpful.  I remember Romans 1:20 as being a theme verse for the course: “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhood, so that they are without excuse.”  To understand that God has revealed Himself in so many ways, and is not so “invisible” as we might at first imagine, was quite a revelation for me.  I am careful to remember that reason must never replace faith in Christ as our hope of salvation, but it is nevertheless comforting to know that the heavens do declare the glory of God (Psalm 19); that God does not leave us without references to Himself.  Of course, the most important of these references is not nature, but is the Word of God.

Looking back I am humbled to see the hand of God working in my life from the very beginning.  I believe that it was by no strength of my own that I came to Christ, but that God in His grace drew me to Himself (Eph. 1: 4-9).  I understand that Christians continue to struggle with sin, and I am no exception.  I take great encouragement from having an advocate with the Father (I John 2:1), and am committed to making every effort towalking in the spirit and not in the flesh (Eph. 4: 22-24).


A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Robert Denham holds a DMA in composition from the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (CCM) where he studied with Michael Fiday, Joel Hoffman, and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon. His other degrees are from UCLA (MA Composition) where he studied with Roger Bourland, Ian Krouse, and the late Jerry Goldsmith, and Biola University (BM, Trumpet Performance). Dr. Denham managed the annual new music festival MusicX for four years, and currently teaches Theory and Composition at Biola University in La Mirada California.

Denham’s music includes works of every genre and has been performed across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia by such performers and ensembles as Timothy Lees (Concertmaster, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra), the CCM Philharmonia, the Los Angeles Flute Quartet, the Orion Saxophone Quartet, the CCM Chamber Players, and the Academia Musicale di San Casciano Orchestra e Coro di bambini (Florence, Italy). Performances of his music include such notable venues as the American-Bulgarian New Music Festival (Northern Kentucky University), the SCI National Conference, Composers Inc., Culver City Chamber Music Series, the Pacific Contemporary Music Center (Long Beach CA), and the Ernest Bloch Festival (Newport OR). He has won numerous competitions, including the Hvar International Composition Competition (Croatia), the CCM Philharmonia Composition Competition, the Gluck Brass Quintet Composition Competition, and was the 1998 recipient of the coveted Stanley Wilson Composer’s Award (UCLA).  He has received annual awards from ASCAP since 2005.

The composer’s recent projects include “Sutter Creek”, a cycle of 21 songs based on the Gold Rush town of Sutter Creek situated in California’s Mother Lode (premiered in Sutter Creek on August 31, 2008), “Three Attributive Psalms” for chorus (to be premiered by the Biola Conservatory Chorale in the Spring of 2009), and “Missing Missy” for english horn and orchestra (premiered by the Biola Conservatory Symphony Orchestra in the Fall of 2008).

A member of ASCAP, CFAMC, and SCI, Denham’s music is published by Falls House Press, GIA Publishing, Imagine Music Publishing, Pasquina Publishing Company, Pelican Music Publishing, and Tuba Euphonium Press.

– – –  SOLI DEO GLORIA!  – – –

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