FANTASTICAL DOMAINS:
#1: The Virgin In the Fields, Flute Study In Florid Line

by Christopher Fulkerson
CF's Composition Desk
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The Fantastical Domains are two short studies in the use of the Pitch Multiplication System developed by Pierre Boulez, which I have used in several compositions. Boulez calls each group of pitches a "Domain," and the flexibility of this system led me to some musical adventures I've always been pleased with. The other of the Fantastical Domains is THE SHIPS ARE MADE READY.

In some of the pieces I have written using this technique I have also used my technique of planned speeds and forms; this is one such rigorous piece: both the pitches and the rhythms are planned in advance. However, unlike the still more rigorous American version of Serialism, which I have never used, very few exact details were planned. Rhythmic possibilities are known in advance, and the domain is known, but unless the domain has only one pitch in it, there is a choice about which pitch to use next.

As I wrote this piece I began to realize I was working on something that would be characterizable as Mannerist, which is a type of artistic expression in which detail is close to the form. That is to say, with Mannerist art, the moment-to-moment expression may begin to exceed the usual mandate that it may be thought to be called upon to fulfill its formal function. Ideas may be thematic or transitional, but they may grab your attention more than the usual theme or transition, while nevertheless not getting very far in the form. Gaudy miniatures are typical of Mannerism. I had been studying Leonardo, the detail of some of whose painting is consistent with Mannerism, and some of whose drawings are as gawdy as any, and I had been reading his Notebooks, which are full of the bizarre and terse visual images and prose pieces. Since the act of listening to music is a court of awareness, when composing I try to be aware of all possible references to other works - not that I necessarily avoid them. As soon as I wrote the outline of the augmented chord in the first measure, I could not help but think of the use of this triad in Wagner's Walkuere; then I thought that my use of fourths might resemble some moments in Berg's Lulu; before long I began to think I was writing some kind of essay on the more extreme possibilities of the female psyche, an Elektra in a vitamin pill. But the piece is so small, I thought, and so perfect, like a doll. When I read about the voodoo doll episode in the life of Elizabeth Tudor, the Virgin Queen of England, I thought of this piece, and gave it its present title. In the incident in question, a doll of Elizabeth was discovered in a field, and black magic was feared; for a brief time the proto-scientist and mage Dr. John Dee, who was probably the model for Shakespeare's Prospero, was suspected, but he was cleared of the charge, and Elizabeth came to rely on him, allowed him two livings, and consulted with him frequently, calling him "My Philosopher."

Several flutists have remarked on my use of the high E; I assume that if it were not convenient that note would simply be played down an octave. One flutist I have worked with, Carol Adee, assured me it should not be a problem, and played it many times, rather loudly, as I allow for.

I have always planned to write a group of Flutes Studies in Florid Line; by now such a group would be different in style than this piece. More surely, I will ravish this Virgin and create another piece. This one was written in one week in 1981, and lasts for three and a half minutes.

Last Updated February 18, 2014


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