MOYS ICOS (2008)
Music for Orchestra
|by Christopher Fulkerson||
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See below for the complete orchestral parts
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MOYS ICOS is a single-movement composition for orchestra, completed in 2008. It is nine minutes long.
The title comes from Leopold Mozart, who, in his textbook on violin playing, discussed the origin of the word, "music." He thought that the ancient Egyptians may have coined the word. He speculated:
"...the name of music? Some believe that the word comes from the 'Muses,' who were Goddesses of Song. Others take it from the Greek modai, which means 'to search industriously and examine.' Many hold that is has its origin in Moys which means in the Egyptian language 'Water,' and Icos which means 'Science;' and so it signifies a science invented on or near water; and some even believe that the sound of the river Nile caused the discovery of music. Others deny this..."
So, simply put, the title MOYS ICOS means two things simultaneously: "Water Science," and "Music:" say it fast: Moys-Icos, Moysicos: Music.
Sometime around 2005, my friend and colleague Daniel Moriarty, former manager of the Rock band the Tubes, looked over my works list here on the site and remarked that I had recently been doing too many solo projects, and that it was time for me to write another piece for large ensemble. I appreciated his intervention, since he was quite right. I wasn't slacking off generally - I had begun taking computer courses in order to construct this web site, and writing a solo piece here and there was all I could manage for a time. But as soon as practicable I resumed work on some plans I had projected back in 1999. The same formal design also exists in a version for woodwind quintet - the idea for that piece dates from Germany in 1975; my studio is brimming with projects. So many ideas, so little time.
MOYS ICOS divides the orchestra into five ensembles, each of which plays its own type of music and behaves in its own way. As often happens in my music, the formal design is the result of the simultaneities of the ensembles. Three versions of the formal design of the piece are shown in the graph here on this page.
Probably the most helpful thing to know about these five ideas in the piece, and the nature of the piece generally due to the way the five ideas combine, is that each one is meant to be an iconic or archetypal idea, an ideal of a certain musical type of expression. To begin with, each icon is a musical characterization of a different aspect of water, or of fluids generally, or of things that can be imagined about them or within them. Beyond this however each idea, being archetypcal, is meant to embody and to summon a more exalted figure deep in the mind of the listener. When I wrote the piece, these notions were very much consiously on my mind; certainly the idea of "archetypes" of expression, their universality, and the characterization as somehow all having to do with water, were quite conscious for me. Later, after the piece was done, I put together some of my thoughts about how these iconic archetypes might be described, each in a word.
I decided that the five ideas correspond to Boldness, Forthcomingness, Splendor, Tranquility, and Elevation.
The opening music is a combination of two ideas. There is Boldness, which is given by the brass, and the character of which I think is self-evident. And there is Forthcomingness, which is given by the strings, in a surging idea that presses forward and rushes outward, with whole sections of the strings playing a characteristic surging effulgent wave that bursts forth with a typical volatile effluxion, like a whitecap.
The brass melody is something that sounds like a great message broadcast across vast reaches of space, a "music-making" of ritual significance of great portent, similar to the blowing that Tibetan monks do of the giant horns into mountainous valleys, only in this case, since the title seems to suggest a Ptolemaic bias, I imagined Egyptian priests blowing great brass instruments out across the Nile. The net image is the same in either case.
The idea I call Splendor appears after several of the brass phrases, and is the quite splashy high-pitched idea made up of three trios, of woodwind, pitched percussion, and violin harmonics. This idea I feel is suggestive of the lighter motions of water when it is sprinkled, as with the fingertips. This idea was conceived to be quite magical in sound. The idea called Tranquility is given by woodwind choirs, and this idea is meant to sound like water in a tranquil state, such as one might see with one's eyes open underwater in a pool in mild shade. The idea called Elevation is given by the trio of xylophone, marimba, and mandolin. It consists of interlocking textures of repeated notes that always rise in pitch. Some people hear this idea as "raindrops," but since I know the "raindrops" always go upward, I hear this idea as effervescence, as of bubble in spring water, for example.
Now, about the idea of Music as the "Water Science" suggested by the title. For some time I have been fascinated by speculations about music as a science, which is what another Eighteenth-Century musician, J.S. Bach, apparently thought it was. The idea that different mathematically derived forms could create different feelings in the listener who perceives them, and the effort to create such forms, has preoccupied me my entire career, ever since I first began to become aware of the musics of, for example, Xenakis and Carter, and even Bartok, whose mathematical derivation of both form and material I (and every other undergraduate composer) studied in college. During the year and a half it took me to do the actual composition of MOYS ICOS in the years 2006-2008 (though plans began at least as early as 1999), I had on my wall a picture calendar of photographs of space views from the Hubble telescope. Between the speculations about music as a science, about its relation to water (intuitive or rational), and the daily views of nebulae and star clusters in outer space, I began to realize that the music I was composing was a sonic depiction of these things. Maybe those spaceships are just "floating;" water and space, are they not similar? It is often remarked that fish probably don't know what water is - does it follow that fish think they are flying? I began to think of the tones in space, which is what music is, as being somehow similar to stones tossed into water, or, especially, to the waves and eddies in water. I thought that there might be ways of sensing different kinds of spaces or fluids, some of which would combine more easily than others, while still others would combine not at all. And so the five types of material in MOYS ICOS are not always meant to fit together perfectly in the usual sense; they have been carefully crafted to have varying degrees of compatibility. The exact nature of the piece was not clear to me until I had written the first passage involving all five ideas simultaneously. As so often happens, the piece became easier to compose the deeper I got into it. The final form of the opening of the piece was begun on Christmas Day in 2006, and the first 69 measures took fourteen months to write. At the time I was working two jobs, and composing on the side. But I quit the second job, just to have time to write, and the remaining 140 measures were written in only two months.
Other ancient texts that I thought of while composing included the familiar passage of Genesis, where the talk about water truly seems more to have to do with space that it has to do with water:
"And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament... And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear... and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."
If the Orientalist scholar Zechariah Sitchin is correct, the "waters" here in Genesis were not waters, but, since this first chapter is based upon the Babylonian story-prayer "Enuma elish," which is a history of the solar system, they do indeed mean: space. The translation we know mistranslates "water" for "space" and "land" for "planets." Nobody has ever made a reasonable-sounding explanation of what the "firmament" under discussion might be; Sitchin plausibly explains that it refers to the fixed course of a planet through the heavens. Most people probably assume that the "waters" in question are those of the oceans, but if that were the case, what then are those waters "under" and "above" the "firmament?" Sitchin explains that the "firmament" in question is the orbit of our planet, and that the "waters above" the firmament are the space on one side of the Earth's orbit, and "waters below" are the space on the other side of the Earth's orbit. The orbit of a planet "divides" the space on either side of it. The different "waters" are, one might say, the different types of space created by the different magnetic influences on them. One divides the space according to the magnetic influences of the orbits of the nearby planets. Sitchin's appeal to the Babylonian origin of Genesis makes a lot of sense to me. And so a planet is like a ship at sea. Apparently there are different qualities of space out there, and they flow into and out of each other. At any rate, this was what I was thinking about while I wrote MOYS ICOS.
With all this in mind, while composing it I realized that, since there are different types of "waters" which the listener "divides" or separates out while listening, the act of listening to MOYS ICOS (and of course many another piece of music) is akin to God's "dividing" of the "waters" in the act of creation. And so I realized anew that listening to music can be a divine act. I hope somebody appreciates the experience I am offering them.
There is a passage near the beginning of Book Seven of the Odyssey that seems to me to correspond with the opening my orchestral piece. I did not know of this excerpt until after the piece had been composed. Describing an earthly paradise that Odysseus finds himself in on the last leg of his journey after almost twenty years away from home, Homer says
"...by the last row of vines, grow trim garden beds of every sort, blooming the year through, and in the orchard are two springs, one which sends its water throughout all the garden, while the other, opposite to it, flows beneath the threshold of the court toward the high house; from this the townsfolk draw their water. Such were the glorious gifts of the gods at the dwelling of Alcinous."
It seems to me that the orchard corresponds to the forest of string instruments, playing constellations of a single two-note swaying figure like a forest of trees, and the two springs could be the two elements, brass and percussion, of the opening fanfare idea, which seems to me to have an antique sound, invoking ancient worlds as much or more than modern ones. Or perhaps the two springs are the two different ideas that the brass idea is made from.
The orchestra that MOYS ICOS calls for consists of piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets (one in Eb and one in Bb), and two bassoons; trumpet, horn, and trombone; xylophone, marimba, mandolin, and cimbalom; harp, piano, crotales, glockenspiel, celesta, vibraphone, and chimes; and strings, preferably six or more each of first and second violins, four or more of violas, four or more of cellos, and three or more of basses.
These are divided into five groups: the first, being the opening fanfare idea of the brass together with cimbalom, vibraphone, chimes, and piano, playing a ritualistic-sounding fanfare figure; the second, consisting of the strings, playing a simple two-note figure that waves in the air, at different and moving rates of speed; the third, consisting of an explosive and brilliant triple trio of piccolo, oboe, and Eb clarinet; crotales, glockenspiel, and celesta; and trio of string harmonics; the fourth, a more gently bursting or gushing, but sustained music of two flutes, oboe, Bb clarinet, and harp; and the fifth, which is a trio of xylophone, marimba, and mandolin.
December 18, 2008. Revised 10/12/2010. Most recent update 12/8/2014.
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The most recent update of this page was on 12/8/2014.