Canterbury Zodiac: A cycle of music and poetry inspired by the zodiac roundels in Canterbury Cathedral.
Presented on Tuesday 21 November 2017 in St. Stephen’s Church, Canterbury.
Twelve drones to the twelve star signs, an exercise in common-note harmonies. Created with Sibelius for a study day at Canterbury Christ Church University, July 2017. The series form a tone-zodiac of twelve half-tone steps, revealed in the organ part. Meditative music, all sampled sounds, amazing what you can do today with software, but essentially fake. Hang on to the central note, the 'ison', and let it pull you through the night sky.
Septimana is a suite of seven musical sketches contemplating the seven planetary weekdays, expressing the characteristics of numbers and divine eponyms using seven keys, rhythms, scales, melodies, sound collages and some improvisations. Live performances on wind instruments engage with sampled sounds. It is part of my post-graduate research on ‘Star Music’ in the ‘Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred’ programme at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK.
Septimana is Late Latin for ‘week’. In the world of antiquity, there was a general sense that the stars were connected to the gods and to music. The seven day cycle of the week is a Sumerian-Babylonian invention and the present assignment of the planetary gods to the days of the week dates from the Greek-Hellenistic era. Seven is the number of celestial objects visible to the naked eye. Their sequence in the week is probably derived from the Chaldean order: furthest (Saturn) to nearest (Moon) to Earth, jumping two planets as in a heptagram. Joscelyn Godwin has argued that the order of the days of the week derive from the Greek Dorian mode applied to the Chaldean order, proceeding by descending fifths (Godwin 1992, 265). I have taken over his scheme as keys for the week days (A-D-G-C-F-B-E) and connect them with the church modes.
When the Roman emperor Constantine adopted the seven-day week in AD 321, it had been in use informally since the first century BC. Because Constantine was a Christian convert, he moved the first day of the week from Saturday to Sunday, thus degrading the pagan god. The seven-day sequence was adopted by the Germanic peoples before their conversion to Christianity, substituting the Germanic gods (except Saturn) with what Jeffrey Kripal has called ‘a polytheistic comparative practice based on the god’s function’ (Kripal 2014, 13). Within a few centuries the seven-day week spread from the Mediterranean, as far as England and East Asia. I follow the contemporary order by starting from Monday, giving each day’s music a progressive meter: 1 - 2/4 – 3/4 - 4/4 - 5/4 - 6/8 - 7/4. As the week has a circular pattern, the music should be played ‘in repeat’, forever …
References: Godwin, J. (1992) ‘Speculative Music: the Numbers behind the Notes’ in: Companion to contemporary musical thought. Vol. 1, p. 246-261. John Paynter (ed.). London: Routledge; Kripal, J. J. (2014) Comparing Religions: Coming to Terms. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
*Monday: 1. Luna. The first day of the week is set in the dream world of Luna, the Moon goddess. Against the backdrop of a Mediterranean beach, a harp is playing Aeolian scales to a soprano clarinet, centring on A, suggesting eternal recurrence, Oneness.
*Tuesday: 2. Mars. Forward movement on two legs characterises the second day, ruled by Mars (or Tiw) and his marching soldiers. On solid ground, timpani give the beat to a brass section, suggesting Roman military instruments. A soprano saxophone adds battle cries in a Dorian mode on D.
*Wednesday: 3. Mercurius. Mercury (or Wodan) rules the third day, in which the pleasures of eloquence, learning and poetry bring dawn to winged creatures. A triple rhythm invites graceful movement to the sound of a string quintet; a volatile Myxolydian melody in G is added by an alto saxophone.
*Thursday: 4. Jupiter. On the fourth day of the week the charged atmosphere creates lightening and controlled desire, ruled by Thor or joyful Jupiter, gods of thunder. A Tango in C Ionian offers a fourfold beat to the roar of a tenor saxophone.
*Friday: 5. Venus. On the fifth day there is time for celebration, ruled by the goddess of love, Frige or Venus. Nature rejoices in the fertile maturity of spring. Exotic percussion instruments play a Lydian blues in F to a fivefold rhythm, to which an alto saxophone adds a sparkle.
*Saturday: 6. Saturnus. The long-lost golden age of Saturn is the theme of the sixth, rainy day of the week. Saturn has a melancholy disposition, expressed by a melody with a recurring Locrian triad on B in six eight time by a romantic ensemble, answered by a soprano saxophone.
*Sunday: 7. Sol. The day of the Lord is announced by church bells. The Cross of Christ or the Tree of Life is invocated by the sound of a bass clarinet over a slow seven-note Phrygian cantus firmus on E. The week has been fulfilled and the soul is drawn into regeneration on a final A minor chord, leading to Monday.
In the 90s four students of the Groningen Conservatoire formed a saxophone quartet, calling themselves 'Les Boreades' after the Greek gods of the Northern winds. The ensemble consisted of Jacqueline Roek (soprano), Bert Brandsma (alto), Eduard Heyning (tenor) and Wietse de Vries (baritone); we played classical as well as swing repertoire. Bert made the arrangements and some compositions, which were recorded on our first and only CD 'Swing of the Boreades' (1993). The final track was Mood Indigo by Duke Ellington, often played as an encore at our concerts. Jacqueline sadly died in 2005. The joy of performing with the quartet was an experience I will never forget.
Après un rêve
Dans un sommeil que charmait ton image
Je rêvais le bonheur, ardent mirage,
Tes yeux étaient plus doux, ta voix pure et sonore,
Tu rayonnais comme un ciel éclairé par l'aurore;
Tu m'appelais et je quittais la terre
Pour m'enfuir avec toi vers la lumière,
Les cieux pour nous entr'ouvraient leurs nues,
Splendeurs inconnues, lueurs divines entrevues,
Hélas! Hélas! triste réveil des songes
Je t'appelle, ô nuit, rends moi tes mensonges,
Reviens, reviens radieuse,
Reviens ô nuit mystérieuse!
Music by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) , "Après un rêve", op. 7 no. 1 (1878)
Words by Romain Bussine (1830-1899) , based on an anonymous Tuscan text.
Eduard Heyning – bass clarinet; Irina Osetskaya– piano. Recorded live at The Hague, 27-10-2012.
The silver Swan, who living had no Note,
when Death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
"Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
"More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise."
Eduard Heyning – bass clarinet; Irina Osetskaya– piano.
Given that Debussy's music is apparently so concerned with mood and colour, one may be surprised to discover that, according to Howat, many of his greatest works appear to have been structured around mathematical models even while using an apparent classical structure such as sonata form. Howat suggests that some of Debussy's pieces can be divided into sections that reflect the golden ratio, frequently by using the numbers of the standard Fibonacci sequence. Sometimes these divisions seem to follow the standard divisions of the overall structure. In other pieces they appear to mark out other significant features of the music. Here's my adaption of Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune with a choreography by students of the Lucia Marthas Dance Academy. Behind the piano sits Irina Osetskaya.