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Equus

At the Midwest Band and Orchestra convention in 1996, Gary Green approached me about a possible commission for his wind ensemble at the University of Miami. I accepted, and the commission formally began July 1st, 1997. Two years later I still couldn’t show him a single note.

That’s not to say I hadn’t written anything. On the contrary, I had about 100 pages of material for three different pieces, but I wanted to give Gary something very special and just couldn’t find that perfect spark.

Around this time my great friend and fellow Juilliard composer Steven Bryant was visiting me in Los Angeles, and as I had just bought a new computer I was throwing out old sequencer files, most of them sketches and improvisational ideas. As I played one section Steve dashed into the room and the following conversation ensued:

Steve: “What the hell was that!?!”
Me: “Just an old idea I’m about to trash.”
Steve: “Mark my words, If you don’t use that I’m stealing it.”

The gauntlet had been thrown.

That was the spark, but it took me a full eight months to write the piece. There are a LOT of notes, and I put every one on paper (with pencil). I wanted to write a moto perpetuo, a piece that starts running and never stops (‘equus’ is the Latin word for horse) and would also be a virtuosic show piece for winds. The final result is something that I call “dynamic minimalism,” which basically means that I love to employ repetitive patterns as long as they don’t get boring. We finally premiered the piece in March 2000, nearly three years after the original commission date, and the University of Miami Wind Ensemble played the bejeezus out of it. Equus is dedicated to my friend Gary Green, the most passionate and patient conductor I know.

Available from all good retailers including Hal Leonard and J.W. Pepper.

  • Richard Odoardi

    Wow. This piece is just amazing. I want to go and buy it right now. If only I had money… I'm a senior in high school right now; I just heard this piece for the first time and I'm just mind-blown. I mean, I can barely even type this, my heart is beating so fast from just finishing listening to this. I absolutely love it. If I could just play this, my senior year would be complete. You, Mr. Whitacre, are a very, very talented man and I wish to be as good as you one day. I love this piece, and I wish to meet you someday. =]

    • Alejandro Montelongo

      This piece is even more exciting when you play it. I'm a senior and i'm playing this tomorrow for a competition here at El Paso. This piece is really amazing i recommend it. :)

      • Jessica Sanchez

        I agree :) i am in the same band as Alejandro Montelongo! Extraordinary.

        • http://www.facebook.com/benito.rangel Benito Rangel

          Funny, we played this yesterday for a competition in laredo. this piece is phenomenal to play. I play the piccolo part.

          • Alejandro Montelongo

            We did really good in our competition we got straight 1's. We just need to brush Equus for this Wednesday for our UIL competition. ;)

  • http://www.youtube.com/xoclkox Courtney Lea K

    Wow…and to think you were going to throw this away?!

    This was a VERY enjoyable roller coaster ride that I wanna go on again! It kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end where I was tempted to start shouting, "GO, BABY GO!" Absolutely wonderful!

  • Tony Constantine

    It just so happens that our band is playing "Dusk" by Steven Bryant and "Equus". I bet our director has no idea you guys are friends. Both amazing songs. Thank you Eric Whitacre for your musical genius!

  • Elliott von Wendt

    Such a cool piece! I think I hear a possible techno remix too – the part at 2:00 especially. :P

  • Alan Bringman

    This is an amazing recording of this. I'm a senior in high school and for our fall concert this year we played this song (and Dusk by Steven Bryant. Our director got the connection). I never knew that there was a version of this with SSA chorus. It sounds great. I really hope I can find this recording on iTunes or something so that I can use it for a music theory project

  • Ana

    Wow! This has forever been my favorite Wind Symphony piece of all time, but this SSA version absolutely ruined it. The voices are incredibly inappropriate!

    • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

      LOL… sorry you don't like it.

      • Jesse Warren

        Hahaha Eric :-)!

        Your comment made my day… I don’t really know why though!

    • Michael

      Sorry Ana…but I could not disagree with you more…the voices are simply an extension of the rhythmic motor that pervades the entire work. Think of them as an extension of the percussion section. Plus they add a whole otherworldly dimension to the work that only voices could produce.

      I would find it hard to feel satisfied with any performance that didn't have the SSA choir.

      • Ana

        Well, after thinking of them as an extension of the percussion section, they made a lot more sense. I guess that the traditional thing to do with voices is to use them during the most dramatic parts of a piece, but this is different in that way. It was a soundscape I wasn't used to – as always!

        I still love the piece more without voices, though. It's the instrumentalist in me =].

        • http://nickreilingh.com NReilingh

          Listen to "The Future of Fire" by Zhou Long for another example of this kind of voice writing (both examples are basically instrumental writing for the vocal timbre; it's hard to call it choral IMO).

        • http://ericwhitacre.com/music-catalog/orchestral/equus Kim

          I also liked this piece without the voices. It gives you a chance to focus on the instruments and not the voices when the dramatic part of the song comes along.

          • http://ericwhitacre.com/music-catalog/wind-symphony/equus Kim

            Never mind I like the voices with it. After listening to it for a few times it felt empty without it

      • Cloud

        In the country where I come from, wind orchestras and chorales are widely considered separate entities. Another brilliant work by Eric that allows these two groups to come together and make wonderful music!

  • http://www.beneasler.com Ben E.

    I LOVE the SSA choir addition. When was this added? I think the piece gained a new dimension that simply makes it complete!

  • Zach C.

    This is awesome! I love it! Have you ever heard of the play Equus? Because I read it, and this sounds like it could be the opening credits to the movie. I was imagining an awesome movie sequence in my head while watching it. It would be perfect. (It's already perfect as a stand alone piece!)

    • http://geekgurrls.blogspot.com/ Sara C.

      It would also be a really awesome accompaniment later in the play, when Alan takes the horse out for his communion. Someday I hope to hear and see the two sequences coupled.

  • Marcella Barz

    I absolutely fell in love with this song after playing it with the National Youth Band of Canada. This piece was the highlight of every rehearsal for me. There's just something so special about this piece and I'm so glad you didn't throw it out!!! :)

  • Denise Santiago

    my marching band's show is based off of his music it going to be a great show :)

  • Margaret

    I listened to this this morning. Three times. And this genre isn't even my thing.

    Good music is good music and this is WAAAAY good.

  • Courtney Gillett

    Just the motivation I need to continue typing my dissertation – Gorgeous piece!! Love the syncopation . If only a band would come to Belize to play this – would be tremendously inspiring!

  • Peter Woolliams

    PLEASE make your orchestral pieces more available, both October and especially Equus are getting dangerously close to the top of my all time favourite list….. and I only discovered them yesterday!! Please consider making more orchestral music and getting them on CD!! Keep on composing….. !

  • Sam

    Just love this piece.

    Not much else I can say really, since if I did, I wouldn't have enough room to write it all.

  • Steve G

    I have been in love with your music since I first played October back in 2002. I have been obsessed with Equus for several months now since I first heard it. I just heard the SSA version and LITERALLY LOST SLEEP because it was so beautiful. PLEASE tell me there is a recording somewhere. I think I actually need it, not just want it.

  • Jason

    Whoa! This piece has such a large amount of energy, emotion, and speed. That's what I love about this piece! I would give anything to play this song! :)

  • Sarah Ann

    Oh, wow. My band director gave me your name when I asked him what our marching piece, Triskaidekaphobia, had derived from. I am a horse women, and I cannot agree more with the name you chose for such a wonderful piece. I think I will run this by my barn, and see if we can't put together a drill team exhibition.

    Anyway, I am absolutely star struck with the possibility of such beautiful but wild melodies and things together, its so hard to word it! This is such an amazing piece, I can't wait to choreograph it on horseback. This is so far my favorite piece, tied with Shenandoah which is close to me emotionally. Thank you for not throwing such a wonderful piece out.

  • http://www.alejandrowolfgangespigares.es.tl Alejandro Wolfgang E

    Thank you Eric! I love your music, and i love this piece!

  • Barbara Alexandra

    This is exquizit. Thank your friend from letting you throw this piece away.

  • Jonathan Morales

    this is my favorite piece!!!

  • Kincaid Rabb

    I love this piece so much!!! My band at my school, Arizona School for the Arts, does one of your pieces every year (last year was Ghost Train, the year before was Godzilla), and I'm really advocating to do this piece this year… especially if we could pull our best choir on it!

    Our choir is doing "A Boy and A Girl" and "With A Lily In Your Hand" on our next concert. We all love your work and we want to do the best we can with it… We all get really excited to 'rehearse the Whitacre'. Thank you so much for all your brilliance!

  • Arturo

    I am not going to lie. I kind of got a tear after listening the solo clarinet in the beggining. I am a junior clarinet player and hope to play this song someday reguardless of which part I get. Great job.

  • http://web.me.com/btratliff/Site/Welcome.html Ben Ratliff

    I love this piece! Maybe one day I'll get to play it. My College's Wind Ensemble recently played "Ghost Train", and in high school, we played "October" for festival. As a composition major, I'm a fan of all your music and definitely think you should write for concert band more.

  • Bradley Barksdale

    WOW!! I absolutely love this piece. My director was thinking about having us play this and looking at my part as a French Horn player, i dreaded it. But now that i listen to the recording i can't wait to practice it!! Too bad clarinets are my band's worst section…

  • Kristen

    This is fantastic. Please tell Steve that he has my thanks for convincing you not to throw out the idea.

  • Eric Zittel

    I need to break down and just buy some of your CDs lol. I recently played Lux Arumque under Gary Green at the OMEA All-State convention, and passionate and patient are most definitely the words to describe him. Playing Lux Arumque was a powerful experience, I must say. Keep composing, Eric Whitacre. There is much that your music has to teach me :)

  • Nick Halbig

    I thoroughly enjoy this piece and your ingenious usage of minimalism. It's astonishing how your music flourishes through the simple "eighth note" theme introduced by the clarinets. This is without a doubt one of my favorite pieces of all time.

  • Amber Mohamed

    I absolutely adore this! My choir director is planning on doing this song with our Chamber Womens Choir, and the Wind Symphony. Im so excited to do it! We already did Lux Aurumque in our Mixed Choir. Were now working on Animal Crackers Vol. ll for our MPA (Music Preformance Assessment). I love your work!

  • http://nickreilingh.com NReilingh

    Hey Eric, did you mean to quote Debussy's "La Mer" there at the end?

    • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

      Good ears! I quote Debussy in other places in the piece as well, Stravinsky too.

  • Will B.

    Hey Eric, I'm about to attempt to write a Theory term paper and this piece was one of the first that came to mind. I'd love to hear more about this piece from you if you had time in your ridiculously busy schedule!

    • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

      Will, not sure what else I can say about Equus in terms of theory, except for this: because there are five letters in the word "Equus", I filled the entire piece with "5's". There are 5 bar phrases, bars of 3+2/4, perfect fifth motives and relationships everywhere. Might be fun for you to find some of those and write about them?

      • Will B.

        Well that's definitely a start, thank you so much for your assistance!

        • Viking André

          Hi, have you finished your term paper? I would like to read it.

  • Felipe

    I love this peice!!! Im a sophmore in High school and our Winds Ensemble is playing this peice for State Competition. I play 3rd part on Bb Clarinet. Do you have any suggestions for me or any of the 1st or 2nd parts? I would really appreciate any suggestions. Thanks =)

  • Mark Baeza

    Such an amazing piece of music! I'm really glad I got to play this for my freshman year in High School. I very easily got lost in the moment when playing this song because of how intense it is.

  • Link

    5:15 marks the beginning of my favorite part. For me, that sounds like a band of horses in the calm, finally taking a breath and a drink from a small creek. Truly fantastic.

  • Manny

    The trombone glissandos are absolutely gorgeous.

    Congratulations on such a wonderful piece, and I look forward to hearing your future music, as well as playing it.

  • Cara Lynne

    Is there anywhere to buy the Wind Symphony songs/collection?

  • A.J. Garcia

    This piece is a thrillng piece. It paints different pictures in my head of ideas that could be happening with the music. It was masterfully written and fun to listen to. I hope that one of these days I will be playing in an ensemble that will select this piece to play!

  • Jaznjaimee

    Whut you were going to trash this piece!! Glad you didn't!! Keep it coming ;-)

  • Jesse Cendejas

    Hey. I’m a College freshman, and my main focus is composing. It is my dream to write marching band, concert band, and movie soundtrack. Eric, what advise can you give a beginning composer?

  • Jerry Merkel

    I play the clarinet as a Jumior in high school, and I am so going to make my director do this! It absolutely stunning, I love the runs, and the steady beats. The clarinets are B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L, I absolutley look up to Eric, and this peice rea;y blew my mind, he can go from amazing choir music to wind things, its amazing. So much talenntnttntnt!

  • Benito

    This is an amazing piece… We just got it in our Wind Ensemble. I’m sorta scared though to play it, seeing as I’m a freshman.

  • Nick

    The Musicality of this piece is tremendous! I love how the low brass come in with the flutes, and how all of the cresc. are so in sinchronization. I am in a high school band, and our band has listened to this piece. This is by far my favorite piece i have ever heard.

  • Harrison Acosta

    Ive always been a fan of your music since we played October my freshman year of highschool. Just yesterday and the day before did we read the Seal Lullaby and Sleep in the Reading Choir at the FMEA convention. I honestly could not put into words the beauty of th music you write! As amazing as Sleep is, I wish I couldve read the original lyrics. I just now listened to Equus, and again, just more truly amazing work. Im only starting to compose now, but I really hope to be able to write with such beauty and passion.

  • Chris

    I loved this piece since the first time my band played it. Every time we’re done playing it or listening to the piece, it’s like, Aw its over?

  • Justin

    SO AMAZING. It reminds me of space, the comets, shooting across the night sky, Galaxies colliding with each other, black holes, destroying stars and supernovas, exploding. It is just. so amazing. <3

  • Carlos Mario

    I’m Student in Montemorelos, Nuevo León, México, our Synphonic Band may be interest in this music, Where we can make contact and Buy it? For Band And SSA

  • David Sommer

    I’ve known about this piece for a year now and it has become one of my favorites. It’s what got to buy the latest CD (Water Night).

    What makes it one of my favorites is that it one of a few pieces that inspires me to imagine it as the sound track to a video production (a short one).

    For Equus, every time I listen to it I run the scenes I imagine in my mind. I wish I had talent and resources (such as Pixar) to produce such a work. Perhaps some day I’ll work out a story board for it for fun.

    If I were to direct a work based on Equus, there are several things I would keep in mind. First, the music would be the only sound (it would be central) with the video edited to fit every measure of the music. There would be no dialog — the music and the pictures would tell the story. Second, it would be about horses only and in a natural setting. I really have a general story worked out. But no details other than what some major scenes would look like and mess to the music. There are a lot of details I would have to work out. And with a busy life, it is hard to sit down and do that.

    Nevertheless, I greatly enjoy listening to the piece and watching the movie in my mind and continue to work out every picture. I wish I were a Spielberg.

    Thanks Eric.

  • Chip

    I just heard your full symphony orchestra version of Equus this morning on NPR and loved it. I am a high school orchestra director and would love to see a score of this. Is it, in your estimation, “high school friendly”? I also just read that you’re planning to add SATB to the full score. At my high school the band & choir directors and myself try to do a combined piece (w/band, orchestra & choir) each year. I am very interested to hear the end result of your endeavors with this. Could you possibly keep me posted on this, or is it already finished and available? Thanks!

    • David Sommer

      My daughter was part of a choir at her high school a year ago that did just that with their orchestra. It worked out well (that is the first time I heard it and loved it too). So it is possible.

  • Eric

    I am a band teacher and I fell in love with this piece! I bought it but I didnt have the choral parts and I think the choir really makes this piece! Any suggestions on how to get the choir parts???

  • Orr

    The voice makes this piece even closer to the dessert music by Steve reich. How come you didn’t put text to the choir

  • Kyle Holland

    hey eric,
    i have a question!
    i am a senior in band at my high school, im not sure if youve heard of my school but i go to scott county high we have an amazing symphonic winds group and we love to play really hard music and me and some of my band mates love your work and this piece! is there any way we could get a hold of this piece and play it for a concert or state festival??

  • Marcus Denker

    This piece has a sick bass trombone part in it hehe. WOO WHITACRE
    Also, comment #69!!!!!! :B

  • Amanda Brown

    I’m really curious to know how many voice you have performing in this recording! I have studied this piece this semester in my conducting lessons and playing it in symphony band. I love the vocals on this!

  • Shelly Beaty

    I simply cannot get enough of “Equus”. I have been listening to it on repeat ever since I got my copy of ‘Waternight’. You rock Eric! :)

  • James C

    This would fit so perfectly to an episode of Doctor Who!

  • Evan R

    Where can one get this piece, is it a rental? Also where can one get a score to study?

  • http://twitter.com/dfstone32 David Stone

    Funny? Steve Bryant claims to not know who you are: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsQnU3kDhCs&list=PL5B6601309A46F5BD

  • NickP

    Is there a recording of this anywhere I can purchase? I’d love to have it with voices! All I can find so far is without singing!

    • http://ericwhitacre.com Eric

      Nick, there’s no commercial recording available but I just made the track downloadable from Soundcloud. Let me know if it works for you!

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About Eric

Eric Whitacre is one of the most popular and performed composers of our time, a distinguished conductor, broadcaster and public speaker. His first album as both composer and conductor on Decca/Universal, Light & Gold, won a Grammy® in 2012, reaped unanimous five star reviews and became the no. 1 classical album in the US and UK charts within a week of release... view full bio