The Legend of Princess Noccalula

The Legend of Princess Noccalula

Noccalula Falls, Gadsden, Alabama

For Mandolin and Orchestra

By John Craton

The legend of Cherokee Indian Princess Noccalula dates from antiquity in the regions of northeast Alabama, U.S., where the Cherokee nation once thrived. According to legend, Princess Noccalula was the beautiful daughter of a powerful Cherokee chief and was deeply in love with a brave from her own tribe. Despite her wishes to marry this young warrior, she was promised by her father to a Creek Indian chief who had more bounty to offer for her hand. Her lover was banished from the tribe, and Noccalula was forced to ready herself for the arranged marriage. On the day of the wedding she allowed herself to be arrayed in ceremonial attire and obediently but reluctantly attended the marriage feast. In the midst of the merrymaking, Noccalula quietly slipped away and wandered through the forests of her childhood, coming eventually to the beautiful waterfall near her tribal home. Rather than subject herself to a loveless marriage, she jumped from the precipice near the falls and ended her life on the rocks below.

The present composition, commissioned by Het CONSORT of The Netherlands in 2005, endeavors to detail Noccalula’s final day in the structure of a tone poem that is highly programmatic. The work begins with the dawning of the sun over the primeval northeast Alabama wilderness. Noccalula awakens to the familiar sound of birdsong, and she sings a melancholy love song to her banished lover. Soon the wedding festivities commence, but from these Noccalula wanders away unobtrusively to say farewell to the birds, trees, and streams she has always cherished. Ending her life at the base of the waterfall, her love song emanates ethereally from the great beyond, and the work concludes with her spirit embracing the land she had loved, becoming one with nature.

Three versions of the work have been prepared, one for solo mandolin and mandolin orchestra, which was premiered in Scherpenzeel, Netherlands, by Sebastiaan de Grebber, mandolin, and Het CONSORT conducted by Alex Timmerman (to whom the work is dedicated) on 1 April 2006. (A 60-second excerpt of the recording on the album Music for Mandolin Orchestra, Stemra ATSDG03-08, may be heard here). Another version is for solo mandolin, strings, and guitar. Both versions also require a Cherokee gourd rattle. A third version, for solo mandolin and piano (sans rattle) also is available and was premiered by Sebastiaan de Grebber and Eva van den Dool in Serravalle, Italy, on 26 June 2011. The difficulty level is moderately advanced, and performance time is approximately 10 minutes. Please write regarding score availability.


Mandolin Orchestra String Orchestra
Solo Mandolin
Mandolins I & II
Solo Mandolin
Violins I & II
Double Basses

Photo of Noccalula Falls Park, Gadsden, Alabama. The statue on the right stands
at the precipice from which Princess Noccalula is believed to have jumped to her death.

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Copyright © 2006 by John Craton.