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Prayer Bells (male choir with solo voice(s))

by Constantine Koukias (2001)

Prayer Bells


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Prayer Bells / Constantine Koukias.

Library shelf no. 782.8525/KOU 1 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

Prayer Bells is divided into 21 prayers, some of which are performed by bells alone. The work is based on heterophony, as opposed to polyphony or harmony. This means that the melody or chant is used to create a harmonic accompaniment and structure to the chant.

All of the bells used in the work were specially commissioned and cast as the Federation Bells for the Centenary of Federation Festival, Melbourne Australia. The bells have proved a gorgeous and finely tuned instrument to use. They also represent unity in the work, bridging the cultural and historical boundaries of these three divergent but highly related chant traditions.

The majority of the Hebrew chants come from early parts of the Book of Genesis of the Old Testament. Interestingly, the background of the Greek service of worship is to be found in Hebrew chant, especially from the musical theory and practice of Hellenised Judaism. The Old Testament had a conspicuous place in the thought and worship of the New Testament Christian Church; Old Testament quotations and allusions abound in the literature of the New Testament, and Jewish cantors were often used to teach early Christian communities chant and psalmody.

In the words of the musicologist Egon Wellesz, Byzantine Hmynography 'is the poetical expression of Orthodox theology, translated through music to the sphere of religious devotion'. It is a highly sophisticated and powerful literary tradition that has extended over many centuries.

The Latin text used in Prayer Bells does not come from the canon of the church but is rather the joyous poetic expression of two respected medieval scholars, Sedulius Scottus and Paulinus of Nola, from the ninth and fourth centuries respectively. In the dying embers of the Roman Empire, Paulinus was Governor of a province and consul before he was thirty. Pupil of Ausonius he broke the old man's heart when he was sent to Spain. He was finally established as parish priest of St Felix in Nola where he continued to write poetry and lyrics in celebration of the Church.

In addition to the orthodox tradition, there is also a presentation of Greek Gnosticism, an esoteric spiritual movement that developed from early Christianity, and grew in parallel to the conventional religions. The Gnostics explained the world by very different creation myths and by reference to powers (considered magical and alchemical by traditionalists) very much at odds with traditional Christian ideology.

Work Details

Year: 2001

Instrumentation: 3 solo cantors (Hebrew, Greek and Latin), 8 male voices, set of specially crafted quarter-tone hand bells, digital delay.

Duration: 60 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Commission note: Commissioned by Melbourne International Festival of the Arts.

First performance: 2001. Baptist Church Melbourne, VIC


Performances of this work

6 Oct 10: Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, USA. Featuring Ted Hearne.

2001: Baptist Church Melbourne, VIC

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