Regarded as a microcosm or theatre of the world, the wunderkammer flourished between the 16th to 18th centuries. A collection of wondrous objects amassed by rulers, aristocrats, and early practitioners of science, it conveyed its owner's personal 'grand metaphor'. Its connections to the
memory theatre, momento mori and symbolic mirror-world reflect a view of reality in which everything is seen as a symbol or reflection of something else. In this labyrinthine landscape, I found a natural context to construct my own private collection of musical objects, ciphers, and quotations.
The volatile and virtuosic textures of the work are created by demanding soloistic agility from each performer. Whilst being required to fit seamlessly together to form complex musical surfaces the musicians are also set belligerently strident and dramatic roles. The concerto form (kammerkonzert) proved a natural arena for such contradictory tensions that seek resolution through metamorphosis.
The search for synthesis in the combination of opposing ideas is also at work in the subtexts and ideas hidden within the whole. An obvious example of this is seen in the titles of the three movements of the work. The explanation of potentially obscure words within the titles of each movement is given below. They are intended to give some insight to the suggestive symbolism and musical ideas within the work’s fabric:
I: The Grand Ordo of Hephaestus' Children
Ordo: a rhetorical term denoting the means by which the structure of discourse is divided, its internal organisation. Hephaestus' Children: Hephaestus, the lame smith-god in Greek mythology (Vulcan to the Romans) made both Talos (a man of bronze) and Pandora (a woman of clay). This movement is the longest of the three and is cast in three cycles, progressively charting the extension and development of more polyphonic material separated by the reoccurrence of more generally homophonic figures.
II: Karakuri in the Temple of Athene
Karakuri: literally 'the mechanism that drives a machine', the term more usually refers to a specific Japanese automaton made for use within the tea ceremony. Temple of Athene: the Parthenon, a Doric temple constructed as both monument and place of worship. A play of contrast between fragments, some rigid, some seemingly improvisatory. The extended cantilena in the centre of the movement - marked by two opposing musical objects, both quotations, over a repeated tolling bell - is flanked by a processional and recessional.
III: Escapements within the Cartesian machine
Escapement: the mechanism that regulates a mechanical clock, and generates the typical 'tick' or 'beat' associated with pendulum clocks. Cartesian machine: René Descartes’ theory of the ‘beast-machine' (1637) expounds the notion that both humans and animals are machines that breathe, digest, perceive and move by arrangement of their parts. The shortest and most mechanistic of the three movements, the immediate sound surface might suggest the manic sounds of a demented horologist’s workshop. Barely regulated, lurching material is permutated through successive episodes. This material eventually collapses into stasis out of which a more regulated, if more foreboding, beating core emerges.