GEORGES LENTZ - composer
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 About 'Mysterium' ("Caeli enarrant..." VII)

(This is an old text from 2003 and many aspects of 'Mysterium', such as the lofty purity as well as the softness/inaudibility of the music, have changed a lot since then. Nonetheless, it might be interesting to read, if only to show how much my music has evolved since. G.L. 2016)

In 1994, I started work on a large-scale work-in-progress, 'Mysterium' ("Caeli enarrant..." VII).

"Caeli enarrant..." ("The Heavens are telling..." - Psalm XIX) is an ongoing cycle of works reflecting my fascination with astronomy as well as my spiritual questions and beliefs. 'Mysterium', the seventh part of this cycle, is a conceptual work in an open form, consisting of numerous blocks that can be put together ad libitum. It is originally a work without fixed instrumentation - abstract lines and dots, ideally meant to be read rather than played. This may sound naïve and totally impractical, if not pretentious - it is hard to attempt such a lofty project without seeming a bit too ambitious.

The kickstart to launch myself into this project came to me after reading about Pythagoras' poetic notion of the Music of the Spheres, music which, according to the great Greek mystic, is produced by the friction of the heavenly spheres and is audible to God, but inaudible to the ears of mere mortals. I wanted to write music which does not evolve or unfold, but simply 'is'. The only way to achieve this seemed to be to write music which 'doesn't sound' and thus is not subject to the arrow of time - the symmetrical seven-tone sequence D-E-F-G-F-E-D at the centre of the work also points to this (vain) attempt to defy the one-directional flow of time.

In the real world of course, music needs performers to make it come to life. While a performance, as opposed to a reading, might limit the infinite possibilities of the concept in terms of structure and timbre (as well as putting it into the time flow), it is nevertheless really the only way to communicate the work to an audience.

'Mysterium' is mostly soft, and tension results mainly from the polarity between sound and silence, tonal and quarter-tone elements, homophonic lines and complex polyphonic material, a regular crotchet beat and graphically notated rhythmic unpredictability, expanded and contracted time.

My overall aim was to write music that would be as 'pure' as possible. Hence the severe self-imposed restrictions in terms of dynamics (little dynamic contrast), texture (homophonic writing - a result, perhaps, of my love of Gregorian chant) and rhythm (basic crotchet pattern). However, this crotchet pattern or 'grid' is often broken by one of two symbols above the music, which make the note they refer to either four times shorter (i.e. semi-quavers) or four times longer (i.e. semi-breves). The effect produced is one of 'limping' bars with very uneven beats.

The extreme loneliness, the great silence and a sense of existential fragility found in the Australian Outback have greatly influenced 'Mysterium' - as has Australian Aboriginal art , in particular the paintings of Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910 - 1996), Kathleen Petyarre (b. 1940) and Dorothy Napangardi (b. 1952), with their highly expressive worlds of symbolism and spirituality. The characteristic dots found in their works (as in a lot of Aboriginal art), in Kngwarreye's case often over the top of hidden lines, have had a very direct influence on my current music.
Other main influences include:
(a) The book Pensées by 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal - particularly the passages about 'l'infiniment grand et l'infiniment petit'.
(b) Fractal geometry (or at least what very basic ideas of it I can grasp...);
(c) Palimpsests (layers deposited on top of each other), which are all around us, from geological layers and forest canopies to archeological excavations and graffiti...
(d) Trees - faithful, silent, long-suffering companions of our lives. As well as living trees (of course), I love the 'dead' gum trees that litter the Outback, a constant reminder of the neverending life cycle. Their stark shapes with complex, interwining lines always give me lots of musical ideas;

It was upon my publishers' suggestion that I started putting together some of the blocks that make up the work, giving performers an idea of how 'Mysterium' might be performed. They thus have a finished piece with a beginning and an end and with a definite instrumentation! Birrung, written in 1997, is the first such arrangement. (My recent pieces Ngangkar, Nguurraa and Guyuhmgan have evolved again away from this very austere side of 'Mysterium' towards a slightly more sensuous idiom and one written directly for a given intrumentation.)

G. L. 2003

Finished works within 'Mysterium':
-Birrung for 11 strings (1997-2006)
-Ngangkar for orchestra (1998-2000)
-Nguurraa for clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion (2000-2001)
-Guyuhmgan for orchestra and electronics (2000-2007)
-Alkere for prepared piano (2002-2004)
-Monh for solo viola, orchestra and electronics (2001-2005)
-Ingwe for solo electric guitar (2003-2009)
-Jerusalem (after Blake) for orchestra and electronics (2011-2015)
View a page from the score of 'Mysterium'.