Ancient Melody, New Setting

Small, mixed orchestral ensemble

Creative Vision for the Track:
Having taught beginning piano lessons for many years I’ve encountered this tune (the Faber books title it “500 Year Old Melody”) more than a few times. I’ve always appreciated it’s beautiful, haunting melody. My students have commented on it as being one of their favorites to learn and play for recitals.

The melody is the musical source for “Hatikva” which means “hope”. I attempted to capture both the pensive and hopeful nature of the piece as that is the nature of the text.

While the A section lives solidly in A minor the B section moves to F major to reinforce the idea of hope and positivity.

Composition Details (Tempo, Key, Main Chords etc):

Key: A minor
Tempo: QN=104 shifting to 94 and a ritardando during the coda.

The melody is diatonic to A aeolian but many of the settings I listened to repeatedly used a V7 to Imin which invokes a momentary shift to A harmonic minor.

My only nod to the V7 is using a Bdim7 leading to the Amin in the middle of the B section. (Bdim7 could be construed as the upper four notes of an E7b9 chord omitting the root E.)

I often used a Bb/A harmonization to add some chromatic energy and sadness. I consider the Bb/A as a modal interchange chord taken from the parallel A Phrygian mode. I follow it immediately with a Imin chord then reinstate the B natural in the listener’s ear by moving to a G triad.

Main Instruments used:

Solo patches: Clarinet, French Horn, Trumpet
Sections: Low Flutes (ARK2), Piccolo, Flutes, Oboe, Bassoon, French horns, Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, Celli, Bass, Harp, Percussion, Piano w Pad (Logic)

All instruments are BBCSO except where noted above.

Ancient Melody – Setting by Stan Bann


Well done again Stan! This had a very haunting and contemplative sound to it, kind of similar to “Scarborough Fair.” I liked the melody in the clarinet, was it? Such a mellow, moody sound.


Thanks, Matt!

Yes, the “A” theme uses three clarinets doubled by alto and bass flutes. I wanted the warm woodiness of the clarinet tempered with the cooler color of the low flutes. Again, orchestrating a bit with instrumental materials (e.g. wood, metal) in mind.

The “B” theme uses the fullness of the French horn section doubled by a single solo trumpet patch for presence and a slight edge. High flutes, oboe, and piccolo are used here to provide a bit of contrasting hope to the darker tone of the first theme.

Another thing I failed to mention above is that the A theme is almost exclusively triadic while the B theme is harmonized with major and minor seventh chords. (That seemed to open everything up when I started tossing in chord extensions! My hedonistic jazz training yet again!)

Thanks again for your kind words, Matt! Take care!


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I believe this is Israel’s National anthem. I’ve always loved this truly haunting melody. I really enjoyed your creative orchestration here. It’s unique and does justice to this lovely piece.

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Thank you for your comments, Charles! They are appreciated! I’m glad you enjoyed the setting!

Doing this wonderful, venerable melody justice while honoring and respecting what it means to so many people was a primary goal!


A very beautiful arrangement, it well balances a sense of being haunting while still being beautiful.

One thing I noticed personally though was that the little finger cymbal sound you used is really really loud and explodes away from the rest of the ensemble - painting an image of that person in the orchestra on the Triangle who hates their job and says “forget this - if they’re going to stick me with this part I’m going to make sure they hear it!”.

It doesn’t take away from the piece however, but I personally think if you dialed down the volume on that “ting” effect it would blend better. Great work - I loved it.