World Premiere: 6 September 2008,Kulturpalast Dresden
Dresdner Sinfoniker, Cond.: Olari Elts
Commissioned by the Dresdener Sinfoniker and the Osnabruecker Symphonieorchester
In the Egyptian 12-tablet-law (c. 450 BC), the act of ‘excantare fruges’(ie to ‘bewitch’ field crops by magic chanting), was a crime deserving the severest penalty. If a farmer experienced a poor harvest while at his neighbour’s fields the crops thrived, it was assumed that a spell was to blame and an investigation was commenced. The few documented rituals which been handed down through history show that they mostly consist of repeating syllables of forbidden names.
I was fascinated by the actual ritual of a spell, or magic act, which implies the repetitive chanting of magical names, words and sounds. Musically I illustrate those with 2 motifs: at first repeating a wholetone (initially heard in the timpani part) and semi-tone steps (lst clarinet); secondly, a motif of ascending and descending major and minor thirds (heard first in the double-bass and then in the violins). These are repeated in continuous variation and increases of tempo until the point of culmination, where they sound together in a huge tutti. Here, eventually, I imagine the practitioner of the ritual has elevated himself to a higher plane – the ‘other dimension’ – where he is actually able to achieve the transformation: ie the thriving or withering of the crops. After that, the magic syllables (musically, the motifs) stay the same, but their place in a greater context is shown at the climax. Finally the ritual ends in exhaustion and sleep.