San Jacinto Overture ~ A Composer’s Perspective

Jodie Jenson’s San Jacinto Overture will have it’s world premier on the Texas, Our Texas concert. She has taken some time to let us in on the story behind her work.


I am not a native of Texas, so composing a piece that celebrates Texas proved to be quite a history lesson for me. If I were to get this right, I would need to understand the rich history that shaped this great state. As I composed, I immersed myself in the world of the Texas Revolution, and came away inspired with what became the San Jacinto Overture.

Let’s set the stage for the Battle of San Jacinto. Mexican president, Santa Anna regarded himself as “the Napoleon of the West”. He had just taken the Alamo and ordered the massacre of 350 unarmed Texan prisoners at Goliad. Texas had sustained heavy losses, and the revolution was failing.  But the heroic resistance at the Alamo became a symbol of hope and a rallying point for the revolution.

And this is where the San Jacinto Overture begins to tell the story.

Sam Houston was in command of the troops that set up camp at San Jacinto on April 20th, 1836.  He was cool and calculating in his approach to the impending battle, but his men were anxious to fight. Two brief skirmishes broke out, but both armies retreated to their camps to strengthen their fortifications for battle. Tension hung thick in the humid air. As Houston’s army prepared for this definitive battle, I imagine that some spoke with deep emotion about their fair wives, their families, and all that they stood to lose if they didn’t defeat Santa Anna then and there.

As the morning of April 21st wore into afternoon, Santa Anna showed his ultimate arrogance by letting his army rest without posting sentries. His opponents didn’t even merit a patrol while he slept (and, some historians believe, spent time with his mistress).  He didn’t realize that the battle was already at his doorstep until it was too late. Houston’s men had crawled through the tall grass and taken a guerrilla approach to combat Santa Anna’s Napoleonic tactics. Tomahawks and swords flashed in the blinding afternoon sun, and the Mexican army couldn’t fight effectively out of formation. The Texans’ battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!  Remember Goliad!” gave them a surge of strength, and their 900 overpowered Santa Anna’s 1200 in only 18 minutes. These men were not driven by command, but by a thirst for freedom from tyranny.

In the San Jacinto Overture, you will hear the story of this battle played out, with the echoing church bells of the Alamo and Goliad, the brief battle sequence that dissolves into a stalling chord progression to show the tension as the Texan army awaited their commander’s orders.  You will hear the heart-wrenching melodies of their thoughts of home and family, and the arrogant castanet snap which embodies Santa Anna’s view of himself and his opponent. Finally, when the primary melody returns, it is combined with multiple frenzied counter-melodies and heavy, cannon-like percussion to represent the chaos of the battle, leading to an epic overture finale as Texas emerged victorious and independent.