No 30 La Voce di Zarlino (2006)

For 5 voices (SSATB)

Commissioned by: Holland Festival for Old Music, with financial support from the Netherlands Fund for the Performing Arts
First Performance of Part I: Compagnie Bisschoff, Vredenburg Grote zaal, Utrecht
Instrumentation: 5 voices (SSATB)
Duration: ca. 35’/Part I: 12’
Special Features: Parts II & III as yet unperformed; Piece also exists in a version for 5 voices and variable ensemble (No 30b).

Score samples

Info/Program note for Part 1:
La Voce di Zarlino – part I – is a setting of a passage from theoretician/composer Gioseffo Zarlino’s book L’istitutione Harmoniche. The text is taken from the sixth chapter of the first book, a passage in which Zarlino speculates on the relationship between ‘sound’ (L’Harmonia) and the universe as well as our supposed inability to observe this.

As in much of my music, the material for Zarlino is derived from existing sources. In this case, Zarlino’s own observation of the so-called syntonic comma: the difference between four justly tuned perfect fifths and two octaves plus a just major third (resulting in a difference of 21.51 cents). The work bases its material on these first five fifths – departing from C – to which, not entirely in the spirit of Zarlino, two tritones are added at the extremities (F#-C-G-D-A-Eb – or in its proper sequence, following the first seven prime numbers of the harmonic series: C-G-E-Bb-D-F#-A).

The text is treated as a form of recitative, with each word or phrase divided over overlapping units of six beats (6/4 or 6/2, with tempo 30 as basic unit for the half-note). In this way, the work uses up to five coinciding tempos with the part marked “R” (for ‘Recitor’) - with a speech tempo consistently around 90 beats per syllable - as the fastest tempo. As such, singer ‘R’ is the only one to actually deliver the entire text.

In the last five sections the tempo overlapping gradually ceases as the pitches are rhythmically coupled to their respective places within the harmonic series. As the work approaches its conclusion the text overlaps also cease one at a time until the voices all coincide on the word L’Harmonia.

Cantus Modalis, in Just intonation

Text Part 1:
Gioseffo Zarlino L’istitutione Harmoniche Cap. 6 (p.12/13) (original transcription)

“Chi narrera le ragioni o voci de Cieli? Et chi fara dormire il loro concentro?” Et se mi fusse dimandato; onde proceda, che tanto grande & si dolce suono non sia udito da noi; altro non saprei rispondere, che quello, che dice Cicerone nel luogo di sopra allegato, Che gli orecchi nostri ripieni di tanta harmonia sono sordid; si come per essempio aviene a gli habitatori di quei luoghi dove il Nilo da monti altissimi precipita, detti catadupa; I quail per la grandezza del rimbombo mancano del senso dell’udito. Ouvro che si come l’occhio nostro non puo fissare lo sguardo nella luce del Sole, restando da I suoi raggi vinta la nostra luce; cosi gli orecchi nostri non possono capire la dolcezza dell’harmonia celeste, per l’eccelenza et grandezza sua. Ma ogni ragione ne persuade a credere almeno, che il mondo sia composto con harmonia; si perche (come vuol Platone) l’anima di esso e harmonia; si anche perche li cieli sono girati intorno dale loro intelligenzze con harmonia: come si comprende da I loro rivolgimenti; liquali sono l’uno dell’altro proportionatamente piu tardi, o piu veloci.

Translation Zarlino pt 1

“Who shall recount the causes or the voices of the Heavens? And who shall silence their harmony?” If I would ask myself how it can be that we have never heard such a great and sweet sound, then I could only answer with what Cicero suggested in the above-quoted place, namely, that our ears are deaf because they are filled with such an enormous amount of harmony; such as also happens to the inhabitants of places where the Nile thrusts itself down from high mountains, a so-called waterfall, and who have lost their hearing due to the enormity of the sound. Just as, for example, our eyes cannot look directly into the sun and our own inner light is overpowered by its rays. In this way our ears cannot comprehend the sweetness of the heavenly harmony, due to the excellence and greatness of it all. Everything brings us to the belief that the earth consists of harmony, as the soul too (as Plato maintains) consists of harmony; and also because the heavens through their intelligences revolve with harmony, such as can be derived from their rotations, which, according to their size, revolve either slower or faster.