"The Lange Wapper" is a legendary figure from the city of Antwerp. He is also known as the Shapeshifter, and this tone poem is about his dual nature, initially good, but later turning to the bad, leading ultimately to his demise.
The piece opens with a statement of two musical themes indicating firstly the Shapeshifter’s nasty streak and then from letter A, his more pleasant side.
His origins are unknown, but there is more than a suggestion that there was a degree of supernatural involvement in his creation (bar 75 et seq). His birth and early childhood are represented in the lullaby starting at letter D.
As he grew up, the boy began to help people in need. One day, so the story goes, he saved an old woman who was attacked by a gang of youths (letter E). The old woman thanked him by bestowing on him magical powers such as the ability to shapeshift and to make himself so tall he could move from one town to another with a single giant leap.
At letter E, he learns (slowly at first) to make use of his new powers. His theme appears at bar 207, and in subsequent sections it “shapeshifts” as the theme is inverted, and the lullaby theme is extended in a 9/8 section from bar 299.
One of these “shifts” at Letter G begins to show a nastier streak he developed, as he decided to play tricks on people – annoying women, teasing children, chasing drunks and so on.
In this piece, I concentrate on the way he annoys and terrorises drunks. He hears the noise of people singing in a pub in the distance (Letter K), and decides to investigate, getting closer to the pub as the song changes key and gets louder. We hear him becoming agitated in the flourishes which punctuate the singing.
He hears another song from another pub (bar 381) and finally he becomes really angry (letter K) and decides to follow and terrorise one drunk man (410 et seq). It might be helpful to think of this section as the drunk man proceeding haltingly as he senses the presence of something unpleasant, indicated by various iterations of the Shapeshifter’s “nasty” motifs. The Shapeshifter’s anger culminates from bar 484 onwards.
The people of the city have become quite alarmed by the Shapeshifter, and being religious, plead with the Virgin Mary to relieve them of his presence (Letter L). He’s still around, though, and we hear various motifs associated with him at this point.
However, there is a happy ending for the citizens:
they discovered that the Shapeshifter had a fear of the Virgin Mary and therefore images of the Virgin Mary proliferated in the city leading to his demise.
I like to think that he was driven into the river (symbolised by sextuplet runs) and drowned although his fate was uncertain according to the legends. Whatever it was, the joy of the citizens of Antwerp can be imagined, as represented in the final celebratory hymn from bar 549 to the end of the piece.
Suitable for 3rd section bands upwards and would suit for an own choice contest piece