• New Music: The Seventy-Two Names of God

    May 21, 2008 08:54

    Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) was one of the foremost Jesuit scholars of his day—so much so that the Vatican ordered him to Rome and relieved him of all ecclesiastical duties so he could devote himself to study, writing and teaching. His range of interests was encyclopedic: he taught a half-dozen languages and mathematics; wrote extensively on optics, magnetism, volcanoes, automata (early robots) and music; his was the first recorded attempt to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics—to name just a few! And he founded perhaps the greatest museum of his day—scholars and explorers contributed to his collection from all over the world. J.S.Bach and his contemporaries would have been acquainted with Kircher's massive treatise on music: Musurgia universalis. And, he discussed the wet-finger-around-the-wine-glass phenomenon in his Phonurgia Nova (1673), so he has a place in the history of the musical glasses and glass armonica.

    Glasses from Kircher's Phonurgia Nova (1673)

    Kircher believed that all the religions of the world (including Catholicism, and religions from the Far East—about which he was very keen to learn) shared a common origin—much like the Biblical idea that our common origin can be traced back to Adam & Eve. What an ecumenical vision! And this—while war was raging between Catholics vs. Protestants throughout Europe in Kircher's own day. Indeed, in his autobiography Kircher recounts how, as a young man, he was captured and almost lynched by Protestants—he was on the horse with the noose around his neck when they changed their minds and set him free.

    Kircher's Seventy-two Names of God

    from his Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1655)


    In his book Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1655) we find a chart of the '72 Names of God'. Each name is assigned to a different country or region of the world; for example he has 'GOTT' for Germany. Many of these "countries" are recognizable ('Syria'). Others not so much ('Zaflaneles'), and don't appear in any of my Latin lexicons (including my Oxford Latin Dictionary, Glare and my Medieval Latin Dictionary, Niermeyer)—perhaps these regions have simply passed out of memory.

    I've had the idea of writing a piece based on Kircher's Seventy-Two Names for many years, and when I Cantori di Carmel approached me about composing a piece for chorus and glass armonica for them, Dr. Sal Ferrantelli (the director) was very excited about the idea.

    Dr. Ferrantelli & William Zeitler playing the glass armonica "four-hands"

    And so this piece came to be. It was performed at the Carmel Mission Basilica in Carmel, CA on December 8 & 9, 2007. My thanks to Dr. Ferrantelli and to the chorus members and orchestra for the superb performance they gave!

    My own imagination about this piece is that each nation of the world has its own name for God—each name is precious to its own people. Hence the piece as a whole has a passionate—and deliberately non-intellectual—cast to it. And it leans heavily towards homophony (vs. polyphony) to really emphasize that these 72 Names belong together in a Great Celestial Song. After the opening glass armonica solo, the chorus opens the piece with a text from the Latin Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible used in the Catholic Church since the 5th century (!) until the present day)—to introduce the 72 names which will follow:

    Laudabo nomen Dei cum canticum

    Praise the name of God with a song

    (Ps.69:30, or Ps.68:31 in the Vulgate)

    Then follow the 72 names, each sung exactly once (we must be fair about this—no favoritism!):

    1. YHVH

    2. ALHA

    3. ELVH

    4. ALLA

    5. ThONT

    6. ABGD

    7. ATAT

    8. MOTI

    9. AGZI

    10. SURI

    11. DEUS

    12. ThEOS

    13. BOOG

    14. DIOS

    15. IDIO

    16. DIEU

    17. GOTT

    18. BOOG

    19. BOGI

    20. TIOS

    21. BUEG

    22. GOOD

    23. DIEH

    24. ESAR

    25. ORSY

    26. AGDI

    27. ThEOS

    28. ADAD

    29. ZIMI

    30. TURA

    31. TELI

    32. ANOT

    33. AGAD

    34. ANEB

    35. ANUP

    36. ALLA

    37. ABDA

    38. AGLA

    39. GOOT

    40. GOED

    41. GUDI

    42. BIUB

    43. SOLU

    44. BOSA

    45. HOBA

    46. PIUR

    47. HANA

    48. ZACA

    49. MORA

    50. POLA

    51. PILA

    52. ABAG

    53. OBRA

    54. BORA

    55. ALAI

    56. ILLI

    57. POPA

    58. PARA

    59. ELLA

    60. GENA

    61. SIIA

    62. SUNA

    63. MIRI

    64. ALLI

    65. TARA

    66. PORA

    67. BOGO

    68. DEOS

    69. DEeOS

    70. ARIS

    71. ZEUT

    72. KALO

    (more )

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