New Music: "The Harmony of the Birth of the World"

January 04, 2009 19:05

We've discussed Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) in a previous blog. The music piece featured in today's blog is based on another of his images: "The Harmony of the Birth of the World" (originally a black-and-white engraving, hand-colored for your viewing pleasure by yours truly):

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="352" caption=""Harmony of the Birth of the World"—Kircher"]Harmony of the Birth of the World—Kircher[/caption]

To write a piece about Creation that's only a few minutes long seems almost preposterous—Haydn takes a couple hours of music in his oratorio Creation, and even God Himself took 6 whole days to create the Cosmos! But I like to think about how these Archetypal Stories continue to re-enact themselves today, in my own life. If we're "created in the image of God", does the Genesis story say something about how my own acts of creation unfold?

Here is one imagination of that. You may have another, and tomorrow I could likely have yet another still! But here's one for today:

  • I first start with 'darkness'—before any creation commences or insight occurs.
  • Then I have an 'idea'—Light is a frequent metaphor for ideas (including the light bulb turning on over your head).
  • Then this idea begins to give structure to whatever it's about (separating the firmaments): it begins to give structure to the notes if it's a piece of music, it begins to give structure to personal decisions if it's an idea about how to move forward in my life. At this stage I can separate elements in my life into "this furthers my Idea" (the firmament ABOVE) and "this hinders my Idea" (the firmament BELOW) and start making choices accordingly.
  • And, any really Good Idea brings forth lots of implied additional ideas as it works itself out—it's "fruitful and multiplies".

Another thought: a rather a tacit assumption from the Genesis story is that God stopped creating after Creation. But the story only says that He rested on one day—not that He took the rest of Eternity off! Perhaps after a day of rest, He gets right back to work creating some more? Hmm...

The piece opens with a single note 'E'. This has a definite symbolic significance:

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the cosmos—it accounts for about 75% of the universe's elemental mass. Stars are mainly composed of hydrogen in its plasma state, and our Sun accounts for 99.9% of the total mass of our solar system—the earth and other planets are just the tiniest dust motes floating around our Solar Candle.

Hydrogen generates a spectral line at 1420.40575 MHz due to changes in its energy state. These changes actually occur very rarely, but there's just so darn much hydrogen in this Really Big Cosmos that there's a constant 1420.40575 MHz "hum" going on all the time as a cosmic background whistle. If we were to transpose this "hum" down into the audio range (20 octaves more or less), its closest note (in standard Western tuning) is 'E', so that's the sustained note with which the piece begins.

And much more. But I can't give away all my secrets! <wink!>

So here we are, starting a new year. We've just completed our '6 days of creation' called 2008, and the whole world takes a deep breath at the Winter Holy-Days—a 'day of rest'—before plunging into the next '6 days' called 2009. This piece is my wish to you for a blessed new year!

"The Harmony of the Birth of the World" is scored for symphony orchestra and pipe organ (see Kircher's image).





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