VIEWS OF A FESTIVAL
With Thalia Moore, Cello
Program of, and Notes for, a Concert Given at Old First Concerts on May 10, 2009, at 4 pm
FIRST VIEWS OF THE FESTIVAL
Ceremonial I for Solo Cello (1998)
Ceremonial II for Flute and Bassoon (2000)
Ceremonial III for Oboe, Trumpet, Horn, and Cello (2004)
L’uccel divino (“The Angel”) for solo Harp (1998)
E piu di cento spirit (“And More Than a Hundred Spirits”) (1989)
for Harp, Glockenspiel, Vibraphone, and Marimba
Celestial Sixties I for Six Male Voices (1990)
Celestial Sixties II for Six Male Voices (2009)
Suite for Solo Cello (1995)
I. Relaxed, but with Motion
II. Droll, with Humor – A Little Mysterious
V. Rugged; Outspoken; with Motion
Moys Icos, for Orchestra (2008)
Cello pieces not performed by Miss Moore will be given in playbacks of Dr. Fulkerson’s computer realizations by Sonic Stew, a sound production company.
PROGRAM NOTES by Christopher Fulkerson
This program was sponsored by Ruth Caron Jacobs.
Further assistance was provided by S.R. Beckler. Thanks also to Kathy Barr and Rick Bahto of Old First Concerts; to Josie De Marco, Robert Geary, Gregory Boals, Michael Halloran, and Margie Halloran; and to anyone else whom I’ve forgotten to thank.
The Genesis and Nature of “The Festival”
In the mid-1980s I realized that several of my recent pieces had a similar, perhaps somewhat morbid theme, having to do with death and life in the world after death. I was reading a lot of philosophy and theology and tended to find myself in a pretty serious state of mind, partly no doubt because I was being treated for a brain tumor, for which I eventually had a procedure done in 1987. A brain tumor puts a person in mind of their mortality; much earlier than I thought I would have to, I was looking into the abyss. I lived this way for about seven years. I had gotten some of my texts and inspiration from two different literary works that are cycles on the theme of a progress through hellish and purgative, perhaps even paradisiacal worlds: Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Wyndham Lewis’s cycle of visionary novels that he called The Human Age. I had written THE CHILDERMASS, a chamber concerto for septet (given shortly afterwards at Old First Concerts), inspired by Lewis’s extraordinarily vivid novel by that name, and the large men’s madrigal E IO ETTERNO DURO, a setting of the words that Dante put on the Gate to his Hell. I realized at the time that by its title THE CHILDERMASS (another term for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, held on December 28th and dedicated to the baby boys King Herod had slain on the chance they may have been the Messiah that the Magi had shot their mouths off about), might qualify as a relatively tasteful Holocaust memorial, tasteful because it gave its message by implication and upon thoughtful listening or meditation, and not in a blatant way. And tasteful because it is, to my mind and ear, visionary, heroic and ebullient in expression. I began to realize that at least some of the other pieces I was composing might be thought to correspond to some of the more significant events in the Twentieth Century.
To make a long story as short as I can, I discovered that without planning to do so I was working on a series of interconnecting cycles of pieces that has as their theme a journey through death and purgation to eventual Enlightenment, which at the same time gave the gist of the Twentieth Century (and now beyond), as well as a course through a human life. At least these three levels of meaning were apparent to me from the earliest stages of the work.
At first I could not imagine how these pieces would be done unless as some sort of grand plan, encompassing about a week of time, a preset music festival of all kinds of pieces, which people would attend while doing nothing else, rather like Wagner’s Ring, but made of much more varied elements. The first scheme for the festival was of a series of programs that would exist in advance, like any week of programs might. The likelihood of this happening was obviously pretty remote, but I couldn’t let that stop me from creating what it seemed was developing. As I composed each piece I would revise the grand plan, until I realized that if just two or three pieces were taken from each of the collections that were appearing, a discernable aspect of the festival could be given. As long as two or three basic elements of the festival were present, it would be possible to suggest the three-tiered meanings.
So, before the term “interactive” had its present meaning for us, I was writing pieces that were meant to be interactive, and to be interactive in different ways, through different means, and toward different ends. In short, the festival I am composing is an “interactive” one. The pieces themselves are meant to suggest different things, and through their interaction different possibilities. It isn’t necessary to do the whole festival to present one or more aspects of the themes it attempts to treat. A well-balanced handful of pieces will do. Half a program can get a point across, and suggest the whole panoply.
I have provisionally decided that perhaps the minimum number of pieces necessary to capture the expressive modes or perceptual states of the festival is probably three: something ceremonial, something meditative, and something dramatic, not necessarily in that order. The pieces can fit together according to literary theme or performing ensemble, or according to any patterning that seems to make sense. But sometimes only a couple of pieces are needed; it looks as though several cycles will be of just two pieces.
Not all of the pieces are programmatic: the Suite for Solo Cello can be heard as a meditation on several of the themes of the festival. Now that I think about it, some aspect of the festival could be given by a solo cellist, if I were to write a “dramatic” piece for the cello: the Ceremonial I would qualify as a ceremonial piece; the Suite as a meditation; if there were a piece for solo cello that were in some way dramatic, the three categories would be fulfilled. So perhaps I should write such a dramatic piece for solo cello. Or maybe some other soloist can do that part of a program? This is a simple example of the process by which I have proceeded.
I should add that the festival is not necessarily to be restricted to my own compositions. Certain pieces seem to fit right in, such as pieces by composers as diverse as Ives and Varese, to name just a few. And some of my pieces are meant to be companion pieces to works in the repertoire: for example, the Bartok Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta has two companion pieces in my catalog: a companion by genre in THE CAVERNS OF THE SACRED RIVER, for string orchestra and percussion; and a companion by theme in MOYS ICOS, for orchestra.
The Spiritual Context: “Go With Appearances”
As I hinted, my first realizations were that I was focusing rather a lot on death and Hell. I decided I should get around to some Purgatory music. I have projected various paradisiacal pieces, but I’m not sure how or whether that’s really what the festival is about.
My personal spiritual progress has led me to think more about enlightenment than about achieving Heaven. I think I have probably never made enough money, or had enough friends and lovers, or time to compose, or performances of my works, to achieve Heaven. And I sure as Hell don’t want to go anyplace where antiseptic behavior and monogamy reign, that’s not my idea of Heaven. Let the people who find such a place appealing go there, and then this world will be more like Heaven, as far as I am concerned. There seemed too little consensus about Heaven for me to launch into pontificating about it. After doing very, very much homework on the subject, I am pretty much of the view that God is a lethal idea, and ethics are always relative to one’s goals. I have returned to something like the atheism of my boyhood, but informed by the wisdom of Moses, the beauty of Jesus, the success of Mohammad, and the technique of the Buddha. As Phil Spector put it, if the average man is created in the image of God, then Mozart is clearly superior to God… and Rocki Roads is clearly superior to Mozart.
Long before I decided that God is a dull tyrant, Enlightenment intrigued me; it seemed like a goal similar enough to accumulating knowledge, something I had learned to do in school and by reading books, that I could go through the motions of getting it. But I certainly did not at all believe I would achieve this thing that so many people worked so hard to achieve but did not. I took the Dalai Lama’s Dzogchen Teachings in San Jose in 1989, and took steps toward achieving Enlightenment, Buddhahood In This Very Lifetime, which is the goal of Dzogchen. It became the only prayer of mine that has ever yet been really answered. If I had my way, there are a number of other prayers I would rather had been answered. I wasn’t utterly callow, but I thought the work I was doing would be similar in effect though perhaps different in style to Christian prayer and meditation, which is pretty much devoid of realization generally and self-realization above all. And prayer generally is certainly devoid of success.
But lo and behold, in the summer of 1990, much to my great astonishment, l actually did achieve Enlightenment. That’s right, I not once, but twice actually experienced that which millions of people all over the Earth pray for and don’t achieve: supreme perfect enlightenment, Samadhi, the real thing. It happened to me!
It was a mixed blessing. Though I twice experienced several days of sustained illumination, states of unsurpassable mental and physical bliss and really amazing awareness (and if you believe anything I’m saying, please believe it was not drug induced… there are witnesses!), the downside of Enlightenment can be pretty severe. Enlightenment causes a level of awareness that can cripple everyday relations. I began, Siegfried-like, to hear profound meanings in things, a condition that took years to get used to. I had been in therapy, and remained there for another year or so, and my therapist assured me that whatever my problems may have been, I was not incompetent. But sometimes I worried. My problems, though, were probably less severe than, say, those of Rachmaninoff, who actually experienced writer’s block, and undertook analysis to cure himself of it. I have never had writer’s block, and only had to do a bit of therapy, never analysis. If Rachmaninoff can talk about his situation, I can talk about mine. Especially now that it seems I will never achieve psychosis, that the most extreme state I will ever reach is to stumble around being a bit neurotic some of the time.
In Chapter Ten of his letter to the Hebrews St. Paul remarks on the detrimental effect that Enlightenment has on a person’s life. Persons who have actually had the experience are put under tremendous perceptual and psychological stress, and become aware of others who are going through similar experiences… though less successfully. To be enlightened in modern America is rather like being a human on the Planet of the Apes, sometimes I just want to shout, like Charlton Heston, “It’s a madhouse!” St. Paul remarks, “But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazing-stock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.” Before my Enlightenments, this sort of writing was meaningless to me; completely pellucid religion-speak. After them, I was relieved to find a Christian writer who seemed to understand what I was going through. My level of awareness was so high it that sometimes it was all I could do to speak normally with people. I heard so many meanings in people’s speech, and understood so much about people’s actions, yet I knew that most of the time, most of them were unaware of these meanings. I was living the role of Siegfried, who, having tasted the blood of the dragon, heard the truth in all things, and I still am living this role. So far, there has been no Goetterdaemmerung. I don’t ask for it.
The arc of fallout after Enlightenment is the theme of a well-known movie, A Beautiful Mind. I was spared John Nash’s schizophrenia, but I understood his Pilgrim’s Progress: when genius really gets enough clues to walk outside of Plato’s Cave, or at least to see through the trap door in the ceiling, there is a potential for a flood of inferential meaning in more or less any and every thought or transaction. Beethoven used to fall into a state of what he called “raptus.” References to these experiences (they are also I believe what he was talking about when he said he was the source of the wine of human ecstasy) are in his personal writings, but no musicologist I know of has been brave enough to discuss them. In the film Restoration, after the protagonist remarks to the effect that, after all he has done and experienced, he must be mad, the King remarks, "No. You are awake." It seems to be a fairly open secret that illumination can wreak havoc on a person's life.
In my Buddhist initiations I had been trained, though by necessity hastily and not in person, to become aware of the changing worlds of the Bardo states as described in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. One thing the Dalai Lama said in San Jose has echoed in my mind as without a doubt the most helpful thing anybody ever said before my journey to, and past, Enlightenment began. While the individual passes through the various Bardo worlds, which are explained as the worlds the spirit goes through after death, if at any time things get too strange, the Dalai Lama advised the initiate to simply “go with appearances.” But now I know that the Bardo worlds do not apply only to the after-death experience. They apply to states in this world.
But in everyday life no one can act in too great an awareness of these worlds… else as St. Paul observes you will be numbered among the crazy; as his followers had been when they “were made a gazing-stock both by reproaches and afflictions;” they “became companions of them that were so used.”
This has all been to provide a reasonable context for this statement: the music festival is about a progress through Hell and purgation, to Enlightenment. None of these things is completely foreign to me, but I would have to say that my personal life seems to me to be heavy on the purgation side of things. It probably is for most of us, especially of late.
The First Presentation of Complete Cycles from “The Festival”
This program is the first attempt to present works from the festival arrayed as such. There is no attempt to provide, through thoughtful selection and ordering, any of the dramatic messages of the sort I believe the festival might be able to make. Yes, there are pieces here that are ceremonial, others that are meditative, and others that are dramatic. But I am not sure that this trinity of elements is really the eventual group of criteria that should be used when trying to make coherent statements using my festival. It may be that any thoughtful combination of pieces can do this, and that by involving works by other composers that seem appropriate, lacunae in my festival may be filled. However, this program is more about presenting the cyclic parts themselves in full. The reason for this is so the music can be heard without too much flying inferential association.
Three complete cycles are on this program: all three Ceremonials yet written, the Ship of Souls cycle; and the Celestial Sixties cycle. In addition, a piece of “absolute,” that is, non-programmatic music, which nevertheless fits into the festival, and the orchestra piece MOYS ICOS, part of a developing cycle having to do with Water and Light, are included.
The Ceremonials are meant to be somewhat more relaxed in idiom than most of my other pieces: they either do not use my preferred “architectural” precompositional methods, or use somewhat less encompassing versions of them. They employ materials that are generally more conventional, by the standards of Modernist style, with types of rhythmic movement that grows out of the materials themselves, as with most conventionally written music: ideas that correspond to bodily movements for example, such as dance steps. So far each Ceremonial has been for a slightly larger group, but this seems to be a coincidence. There are sketches for further Ceremonials.
Ceremonial I was completed in 1998, and is dedicated to Elliott Carter on his ninetieth birthday. (How fortunate we are that the greatest living composer is now over 100 years old!) Its single movement alternates between a meditative but intense opening, involving a sustained "plateau" idea in double stops of minor and major seconds which evolves into further minor-major effects, and a more lively figure that could be described as an intense gigue which spans the entire range of the instrument. After developing these ideas and finding various relationships between them, the piece resolves the two into an enigmatic epithet. It is eight minutes long.
Ceremonial II was commissioned by Professor Kathleen Hammond of the University of California at Berkeley, for her bassoon teacher, Gregory Barber. Its ideas alternate between an enigmatic but expressive opening slow idea that features an ecstatic flute line carved out of the same material as the bassoon part, and a frenetic, very fast idea, that tries to race ahead of itself. Along the way the discourse is intensified and brought into focus with a march-like pesante idea. The piece is six minutes long.
The Ceremonial III was completed in 2004, to a commission by Patricia Velarde of San Mateo, California, for her nieces and nephews Taylor, Michael, Steven and Amy, four of the five children of Judge Ernest Robles of Los Angeles. These talented young people, all experienced orchestra and band players, nevertheless understandably needed something for their unusual combination of instruments to be able to play together. The work's single movement presents a dramatic scenario which culminates in a central Misterioso and gradually returns to its first, robust idea. It is in a sectional arch form in which the tempos of each episode accelerate to the midpoint and then effect a ritardando, returning at the end to the opening material at its original tempo. The characters of the sections vary from fanfares to boatsongs to passages of imitative counterpoint. The instruments trade solo and accompanimental duties in a design of varying combinations. The piece is nine minutes long.
The Ship of Souls
While reading Dante I was quite delighted with a certain panoramic image from Canto Two of the Purgatory. Dante and Virgil are standing on a hill outside Purgatory when they see the Ship of Souls fly toward them, loaded with passengers fresh from Earth. This is from my preferred translation of the Dante, by Geoffrey L. Bickersteth:
Then as drew nigh to us and still more nigh
the bird of God, he yet more brightly shone,
so that mine eyes endured him not close by,
But down I bent them; he to shore came on
with a ship, which so swiftly and lightly hied,
that of its bulk the water swallowed none.
Like one whose bliss by his look seemed ratified,
on the poop stood the heavenly mariner;
and more than a hundred spirits sat inside.
In terms of form this pair of companion pieces, “The Bird of God…” “…And More Than a Hundred Spirits,” is a tiento and a toccata. The ancient Spanish instrumental tiento is a fantasy with the peculiar self-identifying agenda of carving through the texture in order to form a shape. Thus the form is perhaps the only one in which voice leading itself is the issue. Schenkerians should look into it. The term comes from the Spanish verb tentar (“to try out,” “to attempt,” “to test”). Perhaps an idiomatic translation of the term would be to call it an “essay;” that does seem to me to correspond to my harp solo L’UCCEL DIVINO. A tiento uses its texture the way a fugue uses its theme. The term toccata comes from the Italian verb meaning “to touch;” it was originally a piece intended as a display of manual dexterity, also usually for a solo instrument. So together these two pieces are a “test piece” and a “touch piece.”
L’uccel divino means literally “the divine bird,” this of course is an epithet for an angel, and the angel in question is the Captain of the Ship of Souls that goes back and forth between Earth and Dante’s Purgatory. The piece was written over a long period and revised repeatedly due to the limitations of the harp; writing for harp is most annoying, I almost wish I didn’t love the instrument so much. Coming from the mostly guitar-oriented Rock and Roll background in High School, I have been fascinated from my beginnings with the many plectral instruments in Classical music, and the harp seems in sound to be the most purely beautiful of them all. I confess that I probably would not have written a solo harp piece called “The Angel” if I had realized what a cliché it is, what with angels being depicted as playing harps in heaven; fortunately I did not think of this, and for once at least I was well in step with a common icon. (I am being too harsh with myself; I frequently think of the archetypal significance of my performing forces.) I was not thinking tiento-like, that is texturally per se, when I wrote the piece, I realized only much later that that is what the piece is. But I certainly knew of tientos and the type of improvisation they usually represent. I was well aware of the “test” that it was to try to find just the right connections and contrasts between events suggested by the architectural design I had created to write the piece. There are numerous episodes, and shortly before the end there is a mysterious presage of the repeated-note idea of the coming piece. It ends with a bravura flourish, and is eleven minutes long.
Several years ago L’UCCEL DIVINO was a birthday gift to my good friend Ruth Caron Jacobs, opera lover, arts patron and writer on music, whose middle name was that of the Ferryman over the River Styx (though she accounted it differently), another worker in the heavenly transit industry whose job is similar to that of the Captain of the Ship of Souls. Ruth supported my 1998 concert and gave generously for this one, but died before the real expense of the program could be known. Unknown to me, she in fact died on the day I began to work in earnest on Celestial Sixties II, December 26th, Saint Stephen’s Day. I will miss her; so far, she has been my only actual patron. She was well-known for having a strong personality, but sometimes got a little addled in conversation; she liked my Harpsichord Concerto, and liked to tell people it was dedicated to her. It was in fact this piece that was dedicated to her. I hope she liked it. I am reminded that when Elliott Carter dedicated his Piano Concerto to Igor Stravinsky, Stravinsky called Carter’s Double Concerto a masterpiece. But I overreach myself.
E piu di cento spirti means “And More Than a Hundred Spirits,” and refers to the passengers on the Heavenly Ship. It should be fairly easy to meditate on the correspondence between the assembly of a large crowd on a flying ship and the manifold musical situations one hears in the piece. It is quite recognizable as a toccata, another improvisational form, one which by the mid-Nineteenth Century became identified with pieces that have repeated-note ideas. To support the ideas I was having for the piece, I had to create an ensemble that can act as a “super-harp” without the harp’s physical, chromatic, registral, or endurance problems (or its frequent problems with repeated notes). There are no sections or episodes in the piece whatsoever, it depends entirely on invention and contextual reckoning, though not dead reckoning: there are a number of ideas common to other pieces in the music festival, especially its companion L’UCCEL DIVINO, and both pieces end with the same bravura flourish.
The Celestial Sixties
Sometime around 1985 Louis Botto, the founder of the local men’s chorus Chanticleer, expressed an interest in having me write a work for his group. I knew the capabilities of his chorus, since several of his singers also sang in my contemporary vocal ensemble Ariel. I had begun reading Dante and decided to set the three terze rime that he puts on the plaque to the gate to his Hell. I call it “his” Hell, because I’m not sure I believe in the necessity of such worlds, and belief in Dante’s Hell is not a prerequisite to the use of my festival. (I took the Boddhisattva Vow when the Dalai Lama gave me Dzogchen teachings in San Jose, and that vow includes the promise to clear out all the Hell worlds. So maybe there is a plan to render the old Hells obsolete.) Dante, in any case, is not really going to Hell; he didn’t draw that card (we can know this because the Papal jet, the Dante Alighieri, is named after him); following him through his Hell is rather like playing Monopoly and landing on the Jail space when you are “Just visiting.” Dante was “just visiting” Hell. Chanticleer did a reasonably good job with the piece I wrote, and got quite good reviews for it; one critic said he thought it should become standard repertoire. Would that such promising beginnings for my career had continued. I feel a bit like an Al Gore of music, without the Nobel Prize.
A few years later Louis asked me for a second piece, and I wrote one I called Celestial Sixties for six male voices, which was completed in 1990. I also had the plan to write another Celestial Sixties piece. On the night before we were all supposed to fly to New York for the premiere of the piece at the 92nd Street Y, a Chanticleer office worker called me to tell me the performance was cancelled. I was never given the dignity of a reason or an apology, or even a conversation with anyone in Chanticleer. Still later when I tried to remind the group of its duty I got a letter back from a board member saying that Louis had refused to perform the piece, and that somehow this meant the commission need not be honored. I had been there in rehearsals, I knew this was not true: Louis was well into the later stages of AIDS dementia and was not singing any music he had not sung before. Everybody else did just fine in the rehearsal. And in any case, since when would the dislike of a commissioner give him the right to refuse a premiere? You go through with your promises, if you want to be respected. But I knew that the Chanticleer board member who wrote to me in this wise was relating a fabricated, preferred version of the story. If Louis had hated my music, why had he made not one but two commissions? Why had he invited me during this same time period into his home when he gave a private reception for the King Singers? Louis cannot be consulted, because he died shortly after. The whole scene was an outrage of the sort that would be a scandal if it were not so common.
But let me change the subject. Each of the Celestial Sixties pieces might be characterized as a “dramatic madrigal scene;” I had in mind something modernist that would stand up next to a work like, say, the Monteverdi madrigal cycle LAGRIME D’AMANTE AL SEPOLCRO DELL’AMATA (with which Chanticleer had paired my E IO ETTERNO DURO, quite effectively I thought). The piece is a setting in one movement of the following texts in English:
All Along the Watchtower, by Bob Dylan
The Mantra of Padmasambhava
Proverbs for Paranoids I, from GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, by Thomas Pynchon
Lay Down (Candles In the Rain), by Melanie Safka
It would be an oversimplification to say that each of the Celestial Sixties pieces is a pair of songs. Yes, there are two song texts that comprise the main shape of each piece, but these are overlapped with a cadenza on a Buddhist mantra; the cadenzas overlap the first song in each piece, and bridge the usual formal divisions. (A mantra is a repeated phrase, shorter than your average prayer, the repetition of which is meant to galvanize the mind. The closest equivalent in the West would perhaps be the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) The Buddhist Mantra of Padmasambhava is from a terma ("revealed treasure") biography of that Tantric master, and links the two halves of Celestial Sixties I. It is set as a three-voice cadenza that rises from the lowest voices, through the ensemble to its highest voices. At the parallel place in Celestial Sixties II (the two pieces have the same exact formal shape, with the proportions of the later piece being greater than those of the earlier). This highpoint from the Mantra of Padmasambhava is recalled and that of the Heart Sutra takes up in its place, moving in another three-voice group cadenza downward to the lowest voices. Between them, the two cadenzas thus describe a "Gravity's Rainbow," as meant in the title of the eponymous novel by Thomas Pynchon.
The dramatic madrigal scene Celestial Sixties II for six male voices was completed in 2009, from those sketches dating as far back as 1990. It is thirteen minutes long, and completes the Celestial Sixties epicycle. It is dedicated to the memory of Stephen C. "Lucky" Mosco, the late California composer and conductor. It is a setting in one movement of the following texts in English:
Proverbs for Paranoids II and III, from GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, by Thomas Pynchon
What's Become of the Baby, by Robert Hunter
Excerpt of the Mantra of Padmasambhava
Mantra of the Heart Sutra
The Proper of St. Stephen
St. Stephen, by Robert Hunter
The Celestial Sixties cycle is meant to capture the visionary and ecstatic spirit of the 1960s in California and the rest of America, when a new level of awareness seemed to have been achieved by some (though resisted by others), as well as the transcendental but at times troubled mood of its cultural scene, translated into the Expressionist musical idiom of modern Classical music. The texts were chosen for their sometimes subtle, and at other times provocative interrelations, both within each piece, and between the two of them.
Since these pieces are being presented today in computer realizations that lack words, and because these program notes are rather extensive, I have chosen not to include the texts with these notes. Anyone interested in the words will find them online at my website.
The SUITE for Solo Cello
This piece was completed in 2005, from sketches dating as far back as 1999. Sixteen minutes long, it is in five movements. I think the movement titles explain the music pretty well, so I will spare you from verbiage. What pleases me most about this suite is the way the ideas vary; there is a goodly level of invention here I think, both in the moment-to-moment detail, and in the nature of the contrasts between sections. As I mentioned earlier, though a work of “absolute” music, this piece contains some of the same ideas as pieces in the festival, and is a part of it.
MOYS ICOS is a new work for orchestra, completed in 2008. It 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.
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 it 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..."
For some time I had been fascinated by speculations about music as a science, which is what another Eighteenth-Century musician, J.S. Bach, evidently 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. 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. But the remaining 140 measures were written in only two months.
Other ancient texts that I thought of while composing included a passage of Genesis we thought we knew, 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. “Water Science” is Music is Space Science. 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.
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.
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 a 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.
May 5, 2009; Updated May 7, 2009