Cantillations : for choir and ensemble
by Michael Knopf (2009)
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Library shelf no. 782.5522/KNO 1 [Available for loan]
Cantillations is a work for choir and ensemble commissioned by Graeme Morton and Saint Peter's Lutheran College in Brisbane.
It consists of three individual pieces, linked by a textual and philosophical theme. Each piece is composed using synthesis of style or genre elements, ideas and mannerisms. Its title reflects its association with religious or spiritual chant or song. Underlying each of the works is the feeling that this music combines not only styles but distinct genre messages. This is accomplished through not only the inclusion of style and genre elements from Persian, Arabic, and Hindu vocal and classical music and through the use of recognisable Western classical, choral and orchestr.
The first piece, Dost Thou Imagine Thyself A Puny Form?, explores the idea that human beings are made in the image of God, not in body but in spirit. Being a handiwork of the Creator our reflection on our mental and creative powers is rewarded with a glimpse of the hand of God within ourselves. The text is a paraphrase of a saying of Ali as quoted by Baha'u'llah in His mystical work The Seven Valleys and is combined with a quote from Baha'ullah's Hidden Words. It is composed using the Persian dastgah of Chahargah, a mode that features two tetrachords of parallel intervals of a minor second (actually a quarter tone flat major second), followed by a minor third and a minor second. In C it would be C Db (actually Dp) E and F; the 2nd tetra chord being G Ab (actually Ap) B and C. The work opens with a choral unison fff expanding into harmony and into the rhythmical character of the piece. The major contrasting section communicates through a modern compositional approach with the Chahargah mode returning at the end through both choir and ensemble.
No. 2: What Worlds Mysterious is the second piece that furthers the above with the concept of our lives floating in the ocean of the universal mind. Its text is a paraphrase from Rumi's mystical poetry. The musical approach is modernist/quasi minimalist, and contains elements of contemporary pop or rock music combined with an ethereal treatment of harmony and melody.
The final work in the song-cycle Like This, focuses more on the rapture of the lover contemplating the Loved One. The imagery always refers to an inner condition of holy attraction that gives the words an illumined foreground and for me, accomplishes what chiascuro does in painting. The erotic or material interpretation approximates the dark contrasted by the brightness of true inner meaning. Joseph's beautiful characteristics in the Bible and the Quran are highlighted here as symbols of the beauty of God and its efficacy in giving new spiritual life to the spiritually dead.
Instrumentation: SATB choir, strings (184.108.40.206.1), piano (prepared for 3rd movement), double bass, percussion (including orchestral gong), drum kit with sizzle and Chinese cymbals.
Duration: 18 min.
Contents note: No. 1. Dost thou imagine thyself a puny form? (6 min.) -- No. 2. What worlds mysterious (4 min.) -- No. 3. Like this (8 min.).
No. 1: Text from a saying of Ali & from The Hidden Words (no. 13) by Baha'u'llah. No. 2: Text paraphrased from Rumi. No. 3: Text - Rumi Arr. Knopf after translation by J. Star 1997.
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