Celestial Forms and Stories.
A suite of five pieces for flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano and percussion. 53′.
I. Ephemera. for bass clarinet & cello. 9′
II. Mercury. for flute, clarinet, violin & cello. 9′
III. Daedalus. for flute, clarinet, violin & cello. 10′
“We are in a universe in which the forms densely pack the allotted space, constantly exchanging qualities and dimensions, and the flux of time is filled with a proliferation of stories and cycles of stories. Terrestrial forms and stories echo celestial forms and stories, but each entwines the other by turns in a double spiral.”
— Ovid and Universal Contiguity. Italo Calvino
“My soul would sing of metamorphoses.
But since, o gods, you were the source of these
bodies becoming other bodies, breathe
your breath into my book of changes: may
the song I sing be seamless as its way
weaves from the world’s beginning to our day.”
Since my youth, I have been fascinated by Ovid’s tales of transformation. At first, they were akin to fairy tales, told to me by my family, likened to the raw elements of my own childhood landscape in the Sonoran desert. Later, as I read Ovid’s work for myself, I learned of the humanity Ovid portrays in his characters’ search for love, fortune and revenge, all intertwined with the wills of the Gods and the ineluctable elements.
The entire nexus of Greek mythology is in need of new analysis and artistic interpretation. Looking fondly upon Greek culture can sometimes leave us ignorant of its fatal flaws and grave inequities. To understand what we can harvest anew from the culture, we need new interpretations, new renderings and new insights. Though already decades old, Italo Calvino’s article, “Ovid and Universal Contiguity”, offers new pathways into the epic poem and Greek cultural at large. For me, Calvino’s writing has been a catalyst, allowing me to think more abstractly and artistically about how to render the forms and transformations in Ovid’s work.
In his article, Calvino details how Ovid constructs his stories with masterful technique and inventiveness. Calvino’s examination inspired in me a sense that Ovid’s work could not only be an imaginative inspiration but also a technical one. What if I created musical textures that transformed as quickly as Ovid’s? Could my musical characters take on a physicality that could be molded, changed swiftly, or, across an entire piece? I began to work on a set of pieces related by these questions and themes of transformation of material and the connection between texture and character. Beneath it all, there was always a sense of myth and storytelling: an exploration of spirituality, nature, the human impulse, and fate.
Ephemera (2014) considers the smallest of creatures scattered throughout Metamorphoses but also the particularly earthy nature of Daphne’s transformation into a laurel tree. “… a heavy numbness seized her limbs, thin bark closed over her breast, her hair turned into leaves, her arms into branches, her feet so swift a moment ago stuck fast in slow-growing roots, her face was lost in the canopy. Only her shining beauty was left.”
Mercury (2014) is modeled after the winged Greek God of travelers and tricksters. “Mercury ties wings on his feet, his strong hand grips that rod which brings on sleep, and he covers his head. The son of Jupiter leaps down from his father’s citadel to the earth. There he takes off his cap and wings. The rod is the only thing he keeps. And with it, looking like a shepherd, he walks along, through trackless countryside, playing a song on reeds he tied together.”
Daedalus (2016) is written after another of Ovid’s stories of flight, this time between Daedalus and Icarus, but the machine-like textures in the work also evoke Daedalus’ building of the labyrinth and the intricate nature of his designs. “Floating to the sea with downward course, pointing upward to its ancient source, such was the work, so intricate, that a workman could not its turn trace, and Daedalus was puzzled to find the secret ways of his own design.”
Narcissus (2017) is written after the story of Narcissus and Echo, in which Narcissus is turned to a flower after grieving for his lost Echo. “…as they turned their eyes where he had been, alas he was not there! And in his body’s place a sweet flower grew, golden and white, the white around the gold.”
Ananke (2018) is the final movement in the cycle, and so takes a more global picture of the Metamorphoses. Instead of being inspired by the transformations of one character, Ananke considers the fates of all those in Ovid’s stories. Named after the mother of the three fates, Ananke considers the embodiments of each: Clotho, the spinner, Lachesis, the granter and Atropos, the obstinate. Above even the Gods, fate seems an apt inspiration for a final meditation on Ovid’s stories.