Robert Jordan Doesn't Teach English from Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls

Hemingway was a larger-than-life personality.

In his popular novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls, he projects himself in the character of Robert Jordan - an idealistic young American in 1930's fascist Spain who accepts a doomed mission to blow up a bridge.

Through his lyrical melody-driven music, Brian Grundstrom brings out the emotional depth of the characters and brings new insight to this Hemmingway classic.

Using the full versatility of opera, Dorsen's libretto and Grundstrom's music are able to not only explore Hemmingway's themes of trust, loyalty, honor, love, betrayal, fear, pain, loss, and sacrifice but add modern insight into the toxic nature of Jordan's (Hemmingway's) masculinity as his notions of honor clash with the reality of his situation.

Robert Jordan Doesn't Teach English is a scene from Act I of a new opera for Ernest Hemingway's classic novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is set in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War. In this early scene, the American Robert Jordan, who has travelled to Spain to fight against the fascists, is meeting a band of Guerrilla fighters for the first time. He has been assigned by an allied Russian leader to join this band and blow up a bridge as part of an offensive attack against the Fascists. The leader of the band, Pablo, whose leadership is threatened by his wife Pilar, mocks Robert Jordan by attempting to undermine his credibility. Pablo questions Robert Jordan authenticity by insisting that he could not possibly be the American professor he says he is if he does not even have a beard. This introduces Pablo as the weak and flawed traitor he will become, only caring about his own personal safety. We also see Pilar emerging as the de facto leader, as the other men in the band side with her in her decision to help Robert Jordan blow up the bridge. In this tragic war-time story, with so much suffering, sacrifice and betrayal, this humorous scene allows for a much needed moment of levity.

  • Brian Wilbur Grundstrom
  • David M. Dorsen
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Jeffrey Sean Dokken
    Music Director and Advisor
  • Cláudio Cohen
  • Orquestra Sinfônica do Teatro Nacional Claudio Santoro
    Name of Band or Artist
  • Alan Naylor
    Key Cast
    "Robert Jordan"
  • Eliza Bonet
    Key Cast
  • Malte Roesner
    Key Cast
  • Aurelio Dominguez
    Key Cast
  • Lori Şen
    Key Cast
  • Jose Sacin
    Key Cast
  • Antony Zwerdling
    Key Cast
  • Gustavo Ahualli
    Key Cast
  • Jeffrey Sean Dokken
    Key Cast
  • This project was supported by the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities and its Sister Cities Grant Program.
  • Brian Wilbur Grundstrom
    Audio and Video Editing
  • Lilian Raiol
    Translation and Concert Master
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Robert Jordan Não Ensina Inglês
  • Project Type:
    Music Video, Short
  • Genres:
  • Runtime:
    9 minutes 35 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    July 20, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    16,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • TIVA Peer Award (Television, Internet & Video Assoc of DC)
    Washington DC
    United States
    October 22, 2021
    Peer Silver, Visual Effects
  • TIVA Peer Award (Television, Internet & Video Assoc of DC)
    Washington, DC
    United States
    October 22, 2021
    Peer Bronze, Music - Original Song
Director Biography

A composer equally accustomed to writing for orchestra, opera, film, theater, chorus, piano and chamber ensembles, Grundstrom’s voice includes a strong affinity for long melodic lines, distinctive tonal harmonic vocabulary, engaging rhythms, skillfully executed counterpoint, and dramatic imagery.
Audiences take to his compositions immediately, finding in his music traces of Copland and Puccini, along with a bit of film score.
Classically trained in piano from Gettysburg College, he continued studies with John David Earnest. His awards include Outstanding Emerging Artist in the 2013 DC Mayor’s Arts Awards, eight artist fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and a Gold Peer Award for Children of Zeus – a 46-minute work for chorus and orchestra. Maestro Erik E. Ochsner writes “Many audiences cringe at the thought of new music. We had such positive feedback from audiences on how much they enjoyed Grundstrom's work. It is modern, yet tonal.”
Brian is currently working on an opera for Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls. His compositions can be heard at

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

Three scenes from the opera have been recorded, and are accompanied by video - "Robert Jordan Doesn't Teach English" being one of them. In addition, the London Symphony has recorded the overture.

We are looking forward to a piano vocal reading of the entire opera soon, along with an upcoming concert premiere! Stay tuned!

Watch "Maria Meets Robert Jordan", the scene which immediately follows:

Seattle Opera Director Christina Scheppelmann interviews the creatives: