Invisible Light

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Delgani String Quartet
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Eugene OR 97440

Liner Notes & Texts

Invisible Light: Fantasy for String Quartet is based on the hymn tune, “Detroit,” published in the early 19th century shape-note hymnbook, A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony. A number of different hymn texts have been set to this melody, but I was attracted to the tune itself and its simple, modal character, rather than to any particular lyrics.

The one-movement work takes the form of a free-form series of variations built on the original tune – or rather fragments of the tune. As is the case with several of my works using “found” material, the original melody does not emerge intact until a few minutes into the piece; when it does, it is set as a hymn in four-part harmony.

Multiple musical traditions inform the character of the piece; a passage near the beginning may remind listeners of thirteenth century contrapuntal song, while an extended section two thirds into the piece exhibits noticeable jazz inflections.

There is no programmatic meaning to the title, but the sororities I aimed to create at the beginning and end of Invisible Light bring to my mind a kind of coruscating brilliance that can’t really be seen but somehow inundates all of the senses.

Terry McQuilkin

The collaboration between Delgani String Quartet, orator Rickie Birran, and composer Paul Safar fostered the development of four new compositions inspired by great literature. While each piece was composed with a specific text in mind, the relationship between text and music varies: in both The Pied Piper of Hamelin and The Walrus and the Carpenter, the music follows the drama of the text; in Satan Speaks, the music provides a backdrop to the Arch-fiend’s soliloquy from book one of Paradise Lost; William Blake’s The Tyger is framed by a musical prelude and postlude. The texts for these selections are reprinted below.

THE WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER
by Lewis Carroll

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright–
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done–
“It’s very rude of him,” she said,
“To come and spoil the fun!”

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead–
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
“If this were only cleared away,”
They said, “it would be grand!”

“If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose,” the Walrus said,
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it,” said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

“O Oysters, come and walk with us!”
The Walrus did beseech.
“A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.”

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head–
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat–
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more–
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

“But wait a bit,” the Oysters cried,
“Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!”
“No hurry!” said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed–
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”

“But not on us!” the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
“After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!”
“The night is fine,” the Walrus said.
“Do you admire the view?

“It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf–
I’ve had to ask you twice!”

“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”

“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?”
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.

THE TYGER
by William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame they fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame they fearful symmetry?

And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame they fearful symmetry?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame they fearful symmetry?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears?
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame they fearful symmetry?

THE PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN
by Robert Browning, abridged by Rickie Birran

Rats!
They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soups from the cooks’ own ladles,
Split open the keg of salted sprats,
And even spoiled the women’s chats
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.

Into the street the Piper stept,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept
In his quiet pipe the while.
Then, like a musical adept,
To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled,
And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled,
Like a candle-flame where salt is sprinkled;
And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,
You heard as if an army muttered;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
And the grumbling grew to a mighty tumbling.
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling.
Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
Brown rats, black rats, gray rats, tawny rats,
Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives
Followed the Piper for their lives.
From the street to street he piped advancing,
And step for step they followed dancing,
Until they came to the river Weser,
Wherein all plunged and perished!

You should have heard the Hamelin people
Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple.
“Go,” cried the Mayor, “and get long poles,
Poke out the nests and block up the holes!
Consult with the carpenters and builders,
And leave in our town not even a trace
Of the rats!” –when suddenly, up the face
Of the piper perked in the market-place,
With a “First, if you please, my thousand guilders!”

A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue;
So did the Corporation too.
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gypsy coat of red and yellow!
“And what’s dead can’t come to life, I think.”
Quoth the Mayor with a knowing wink,
“And as for the guilders of which we spoke
Of them, you might have known it was a joke.
Besides, our losses have made us thrifty.
A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!”

Once more the stepped into the street
And to his lips again
Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane;
And ere he blew three notes (such sweet
Soft notes as yet musician’s cunning
Never gave the enraptured air)
There was a rustling, that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds jostling at pitching and hustling,
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
And, like the fowls in a farmyard when barley is scattering,
Out came the children running.
All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.
The Mayor was dumb, and the Council stood
As if they were changed into blocks of woods.
Unable to move a step, or cry
To the children merrily skipping by, –
Could only follow with the eye
That joyous crowd at the Piper’s back.
But how the Mayor was on the rack,
And the wretched Council’s bosoms beat,
As the Piper turned from the High Street
To where the Weser rolled its waters
Right in the way of their sons and daughters!
However he turned from South to West,
And to Koppelberg Hill his steps addressed,
And after him the children pressed;
Great was the joy in every breast.
“He never can cross the mighty top!
He’s forced to let the piping drop,
And we shall see our children stop!”
When, lo, as they reached the mountain-side,
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain-side shut fast.

The Mayor sent East, West, North and South,
To offer the Piper, by word of mouth,
Wherever it was men’s lot to find him,
Silver and gold to his heart’s content,
If he’d only return the way he went,
And bring the children behind him.
But then they saw ‘twas a lost endeavor,
The Piper and dancers were gone forever.

PARADISE LOST
by John Milton

Book I, Lines: 192-202; 209-210; 221-271

With Head up-lift above the wave and Eyes
That sparkling blaz’d, his other Parts besides
Prone on the Flood, extended long and large
Lay floating many a rood, in bulk as huge
As whom the Fables name of monstrous size,
Titanian, or Earth-born, what warr’d on Jove
Briareos or Typhon, whom the Den
By ancient Tarsus held, or that Sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim th’ Ocean stream:
So stretcht out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay
Chain’d on the burning Lake…,
Forthwith upright he rears from off the Pool
His mighty Stature; on each hand the flames
Driv’n backward slope their pointing spires and roll’d
In billows, leave i’ th’ midst a horrid Vale.
Then with expanded wings he steers his flight
Aloft, incumbent on the dusky Air
That felt unusual weight, till on dry Land
He lights, if it were land that ever burn’d
With solid, as the Lake with liquid fire;
And such appear’d in hue, as when the force
Of subterranean wind transport a Hill
Torn from Pelorus, or the shatter’d side
Of thund’ring Aetna, whose combustible
And fuel’d entrails thence conceiving Fire,
Sublim’d with Mineral fury, aid the Winds,
And leave a singed bottom all involv’d,
With stench and smoke; Such resting found the sole
Of unblessed feet. Him followed his next Mate,
Both glorying to have scapt the Stygian flood
As Gods, and by their own recover’d strength,
Not by the sufferance of supernal Power.

“Is this the Region, this the Soil, the Clime,”
Said then the lost Arch-Angel, “this the seat
That we must change for Heav’n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since hee
Who now is sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right; fardest from him is best
Whom reason hath equall’d, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell, happy Fields
Where Joy forever dwells: Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than hee
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell;
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.
But wherefore let we then our faithful friends,
Th’ associates and copartners of our loss
Lie thus astonisht on th’ oblivious Pool,
And call them not to share with us their part
In this unhappy Mansion, or once more
With rallied Arms to try what may be yet
Regain’d in Heav’n, or what most lost in Hell?”

So Satan spake.