This Present Darkness is based on the book of the same name by Frank E. Peretti, which in turn is based on the following passage found in the book of Ephesians:

 

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the  powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  

 

Ephesians 6:11-12, Revised Standard Version.

 

In his book, Peretti chronicles a spiritual battle which takes place in the tiny town of Ashton. I have cast this piece in three movements, each for one of the three forces in the book.  There are the demons, led by Ba-al Rafar, a powerful leader feared by his soldiers.  The second movement is for The Remnant, a group of Christians in the town who remain faithful despite hardships and temptations.  It is their prayers which strengthen the third group, the Heavenly Hosts (angels), led by Tal, sent to battle the demons.

 

 I can imagine as the piece begins, night in the town Ashton.  The demons overhead, hovering, picking out their prey.  Peretti describes one of the demons, "It had arms and legs, but seemed to move without them, crossing the street and mounting the front steps of the church.  Its leering, bulbous eyes reflected the stark blue light of the full moon with their own jaundiced glow.  The gnarled head protruded from hunched shoulders, and wisps of rancid red breath seethed in labored hisses through rows of jagged fangs."

 

The opening of the first movement slowly spins out a five note motive in the piccolo and string harmonics, which represents the demons.  Distant church bells give a sense of foreboding with an augmented chord.  The demons hover.  Eventually, they begin to land, and wreak havoc on the poor town of Ashton.  This mayhem is suddenly interrupted with a calmer texture, a lament for the people of Ashton based on the five note theme, played by the piano, violin and 'cello.  This is quickly overpowered, however, by interruptions from the woodwinds and the return of the distant bells.  The demons again are on the loose.  The movement ends with the same hovering as the beginning.

 

There is no pause between the first and second movements.  The second movement is in 'cumulative form.'  This is basically a large ABA, with two contrasting sections of thematic development and the third section that gives the themes.  This form, which cumulates in the statement of a musical idea (rather than presenting it at first and developing it) is borrowed from Charles Ives, particularly the second movement of his fourth Sonata for Violin and Piano.

 

As the demons begin to dissipate (from the first movement), fragments of an old hymn tune emerge in the high register of the piano, "Sweet Hour of Prayer."  These are intertwined with fragments of another melody, representing The Remnant.  The first part of the second movement is uncertain, with demonic outbursts interrupting the more serene hymn and melody.  When finally it seems the demons will gain the upper hand, the opening of the demon theme is transformed into the melody representing The Remnant.  This long 'cello solo is cast very somberly, as hope is scarce for the Christians.

 

Suddenly there is a test of wills.  The tempo quickens, and fragments of the themes battle.  Eventually, the demons are beaten back, and the combination of the hymn and the melody are presented, lifting prayers to God.  The church bells ring out the children's hymn, "Yes, Jesus Loves Me," and all seems to be at peace.

 

The third movement begins, again without pause, with the gathering of demonic forces.  Once again, the augmented chord in the church bells return, calling demons from every corner of the town.  Twisty chromatic lines and repeated figures float freely and build to a climax.  The gathering of the demons is nearly complete, when it is interrupted by octave G's.  This is Tal, streaking through the massive dark cloud of demons and signaling the call to battle.  Angels emerge, and the battle is on.

 

The two forces rage;  fragments of Tal's call and the five note demon motive go back and forth.  These lead to the players are engaged in a kind of controlled chaos.  More fighting.  Gradually a dissonant chord takes over the texture, starting as a kind of low heartbeat in the bass drum.  The strings and winds scamper away with a last gasp of 16th notes, and then the Tal sounds the victory.

 

The piece ends with a tranquil coda.  It is similar to the opening of the piece, but gives a sense of calm rather than forboding. The piece bares the inscription which is the battle cry of the angels in the book, "To the Saints of God, and to the Lamb."