New Music: "The Alchemical Tree"

December 21, 2008 21:12

As I mentioned in last week's post, alchemy in the Middle Ages and Renaissance was about much more than "changing lead into gold"—in addition to being proto-science concerned with medicine through metallurgy through proto-chemistry, within its literature there is also a stream called 'inner alchemy' for which that metaphor was about 'changing the lead of the human heart into Gold'. In other words, it was a way for folks to talk about the Spiritual Path under the radar of the religious authorities (back when heresy was potentially a capital offense—and a barbarically excruciating one at that).

Here's an image from the Quinta Essentia by Thurneisser (1530–96):

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="350" caption="The Alchemical Tree"]The Alchemical Tree[/caption]

Until you get some familiarity with the 'language' of these alchemical images, it's hard to even know where to begin. So here's is one interpretation—and by no means the only one:

The tree: what do trees do? They have their roots in the earth, but they reach for the heavens.

The birds: their natural abode is the heavens.

The dragon: unlike western children's bedtime stories, dragons in the alchemical literature are not necessarily evil and destructive. And the natural abode of dragons is also the heavens. But this one is on the earth. And kneeling (as well as a dragon can kneel!)... and instead of breathing out fire, it's drinking in water. And the result of that is that the Alchemical Tree is blossoming...

Again, my hints at 'interpretation' have no more authority than anyone else's. But it's a place to start!

Here's my companion piece. It's scored for chamber orchestra (strings, french horns, flute, oboe, clarinet, harp, celesta, finger cymbals):



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