SCRITTI DI LEONARDO
Cantata #2 for Tenor Solo, Madrigal Quartet,
Flute, Bass Clarinet, Guitar, Harp, and Viola
|Music by Christopher Fulkerson
Text by Leonardo da Vinci
|CLICK HERE to download the World Premiere performance|
MODERNISM FOREVER includes a recording of this work
CLICK HERE for the texts in Italian and English
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Leonardo da Vinci is a man of tremendous mystery, a man who seems to have known some deep, disturbing secret of the creative process. He was more than just an intellectual; he was a man of passion, constantly showing his hand as a sentient being as well as a sapient one. It is his characteristic urge to be something more than human that makes him so awesomely and admirably human.
Nowhere in his legacy is Leonardo's feverishly questing nature more apparent than in the several thousands of pages of his notebooks. In addition to their astonishing appeal as literature, what attracted me to set portions of Leonardo's notebooks to music was the peculiar effect that time has had upon his philosophizing. Leonardo's brand of empiricism was about the most scientific method of thought before induction, and his artworks are among the most stimulating ever created. But at a distance of centuries his once-scientific insistance upon experience as the arbiter of thought appears to us almost as the apology of a sensualist. At the same time, his art has the serene detachment of science, and seems to make the same leap between objectivity and intuition as does that supposedly most "rigorous" of disciplines.
SCRITTI DI LEONARDO ("Writings of Leonardo") marked the end of a chapter in my compositional development; after SCRITTI, many features of my music changed. A composer's training has always caused a bias toward the musical element of pitch, but beginning about four years prior to the SCRITTI the element of rhythm tended to become increasingly more important in my creative process. More and more I discover that the pitches do just as I want them to when I allow them to be pushed around on the page by rhythm. In the SCRITTI there are both (very relaxed, and not "twelve-tone") serial procedures applied to pitch and an all-encompasing rhythmic design affecting form, phrasing, tempi, etc. A creative tension between these often results in rather demanding vocal lines. But, though difficult, the lines are in fact "vocal," and I attribute this in part to Leonardo's dark Italian prose, which I find more effusively musical than the lyrics of many poets, and in part to my interest in the vocal lines of American musical theater. I hear this latter influence especially in my use of melodic thirds and sixths. The resulting listening experience is, I think, a rare one: Italian text-setting that is vocal yet unquestionably Expressionistic.
The formal plan of the SCRITTI is, I like think, blissfully complex, with different strata for each section of the ensemble. It may be thought of as in "Treatise Form," since an incipit of the first phrase of each section appears, in proper sequential order, in the Introduction, which thus acts as a kind of "table of contents" of the musical ideas of the piece. This idea was suggested by the quotation of Leonardo's "Treatise on Painting," and by the text appearing at the beginning of the work, "Pensa bene al fine," "Think well about the end." I make no apology for attempting "philosophy in music" in this way; indeed, most of my pieces employ some sort or other of this type of reasoning in thematic use. This is most evident to the ear in my music theater piece, A MIRACLE OF RARE DEVICE.
In the vocal foreground is a prologue, a set of ariosi for solo tenor alternating with madrigals for solo quartet, and an epilogue. But the instrumental background provides a different design of overlapping instrumental ensembles whose changing constitution blurs the edges of the vocal movements. The work is three simultaneous cycles overlapping. Since the lute was Leonardo's favorite instrument, the ensemble had to include a guitar; the guitar needed a complimenting sound and partner, so I added a harp as well.
In the prologue and epilogue Leonardo gives the key to his thinking: logical deduction of detail from careful consideration of an uncreated work's eventual whole. In the rest of the piece he lets us deeper into his soul. The first madrigal, "Di mi se mai," is a setting of a sentence fragment with which Leonardo often ritualistically begins a notebook entry on some subject seldom or never before discussed. The solo tenor interrupts with his first arioso, "E tirata dalla mia bramosa voglia." Andrew Imbrie pointed out to me that this phrase is a paraphrase of the first canto of Dante's Divine Comedy. Compared to Dante's, however, Leonardo's is much more Expressionistic. The second madrigal is one of Leonardo's deadpan comic prophecies, one of his favorite genres. The Treatise on Painting provided the text for the next arioso, "Come si deve," in which Leonardo anticipates a night scene from Rembrandt, intermingled with his own sublime, supposedly uninvolved observation (vivid imagining?) of terrified fascination. I have tried to capture both of these points of view in my setting of this and the other texts. The third arioso and the third madrigal present both of these sides of Leonardo at once: the madrigal quartet sings of the grace and sweetness of the human face, while the solo tenor carries on with an impassioned speech treating of Leonardo's once-protective psychological armor of empiricism. It is the armor so many of us wear. To think "outside the box," one must drop one's armor. But the consensus is of course that Leonardo was ahead of his time. Leonardo is more than a great man, he is an archetype, as much a dream-figure as Merlin, yet belonging to reality.
This commentary appeared, in a different form, as the program note to the premiere.
The score is 60 pages long in the composer's fair hand. Hard copy of the Study Score is $30. Conductor's Score $40.
Nicolas Slonimsky included the following entry in his Supplement to Music Since 1900:
14 March 1984