The Catherine Wheel  (2002) for oboe quartet - 20'

-ob, vln, vla, vcl

-Commissioned by Astral Artistic Services

-Premiered 2002 Holy Trinity Church

Program Listing

The Catherine Wheel (2002)

Part I

Part II: Rose Window

Part III

Program Notes

The Catherine Wheel is a term used to describe the Rose window of a cathedral, a revolving firework, and the device used in the martyrdom of St. Catherine. It evokes the image of a spinning circle; forever in revolution and change. It is a mandala that is both in constant flux and in a steady state of form.

Part I suggests the momentum of the spinning wheel with a motive passed continually through the strings in accompaniment. The wheel spins in all directions but never really stops at any time.

Part II was inspired by events of these past years that have led to further a culture of violence and dehumanization. It is called “Rose Window” and seeks to invoke the hope and sorrow of the cathedral, including the issues of martyrdom and sacrifice in our own time. The music has the medieval sounds of the cathedral, beginning with chant, continuing with canon, and ending with the colors of soft and introspective light shining through stained glass.

Part III returns to the wheel, this time with sparks flying like the revolving Chinese fireworks of the title. The music pops and spins, finding circularity again in the form of the Rondo.

The Catherine Wheel was commissioned by Astral Artistic Services for oboist Katherine Needleman and was premiered in January of 2003 in Philadelphia. This music was written for Katherine (of no relation to the “Wheel”) with gratitude and in friendship.


“A new piece destined for a secure place in the chamber-music world…shows every sign of being artistically important…The second movement, in particular, of Ludwig’s The Catherine Wheel promises to speak for the sorrows of this generation much the way Barber’s Adagio for Strings did for another era…[it] recalls the chant and echo of church music, though not in a heavy-handed way.  It is more spiritual than religious, and its mournful, delicate language suggests at once peace and sorrow.” –Philadelphia Inquirer

“Ludwig’s composition is a winner. Violin, viola and cello create a foundation of dark harmonies and minimalism-flavored rhythmic motion to launch the first movement; the oboe sings lyrically above the action. Soulful melodic lines, feathery accompaniment patterns and imitative devices enrich the second movement. The energetic finale is punctuated by slashing string chords and brilliant oboe riffs.” –Baltimore Sun