New Year, new recording, part 4: The Daniel Window

Part four in a series on my new album, “Refracted Light.”

Introduction: I composed five chamber works based on stained-glass windows at my church, St. George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia. In 2017, I recorded the project in the nave of St. George’s, where I collaborated with some of my close musical colleagues to record these compositions: the stories of creation, Daniel, Epiphany, the Crucifixion, and Judgement Day. I call this group of compositions “Refracted Light.” This has just been released on the Arts Laureate label and is available on all major platforms like Amazon, SpotifyiTunes and CDBaby.

Note: The audio tracks for this blog have links for the Spotify platform. 

 

The Daniel Window at St. George’s.

The companion piece for the Daniel Window at St. George’s is the most sonata-like of any of my compositions. The window shows three episodes from the old testament Book of Daniel. At the top there is a flaming furnace with Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego unharmed by the fire. Also at the top is crown which represents King Nebuchadnezzar, whose dream Daniel correctly interpreted. The icon of a lion is depicted under Daniel’s feet, because he emerged unscathed from his punishment of spending a night in the lion’s den. Each of these events are given their own movement in “Daniel Window.” The piece is written for and piano. Ina Mirtcheva is the pianist on this recording.

Movement I: In the “Fiery Furnace” (from chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel) I wanted to solve the dual problem of economy of material and evoke the dancing flames of the furnace at the same time. The opening interval of a perfect fourth (associated with Daniel) gets into the fabric of the whole piece. Chromatic motives, loosely based on the shape of the opening motive, as well as trill gestures, suggest an intense fire. Interrupting this flow is the downward motive of G, E-flat, A (as it first appears in the left hand of the piano). This declamatory motive evokes the harshness of Babylonian law. The accused friends are spared from the heat of the furnace, the miraculousness of which is underpinned by a hymn-like section based on the opening motive. The story ends with the Jews’ political detractors being thrown into the furnace themselves. Only now, the furnace is seven times hotter, which justifies the ending of this movement being as technically aggressive as possible.

Movement II: In “Visions and Dreams,” I focused on downward-stepping scales to evoke a dream-like state. Toward the end, a contrasting, declamatory section depicts the vision as Daniel tells King Nebuchadnezzar in chapter two, “Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as your were lying in bed are these. . . . Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue. . . . [And] the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.”

Movement III: The story of “The Lion’s Den” comes from the sixth chapter. Now under the rule of Darius the Mede, Daniel is trapped by a new decree that states that anyone praying to a god or man other than Darius himself would be thrown into the den of lions. Since the faithful prophet cannot abide by the rule, he is thrown into the den for the whole night. Nevertheless, he comes out at daybreak, unscathed. I wanted to conjure some musical flavors of the middle east, such as the dervish dance of the Sufis and gestures suggested by the Phrygian mode. At the same time, the low register, especially that of the piano, is explored extensively to evoke the visceral predatory nature of the lions. As in the fiery furnace episode, Daniel’s detractors are, themselves, later thrown into the den of lions to die a horrible death articulated by rumbling arpeggiation shared between the piano and trumpet.

 

 

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