Paul Seitz Bright Promise from the Fire Parts
Oboe, Bb Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Bassoon, Bass Clarinet
Commissioned by the Odyssey Chamber Music Series and composed for Akropolis Reed Quintet, “Bright Promise from the Fire is a celebration of all forms of kiln-formed art, with an awareness of all the metaphors about life that can be drawn from the practice of that art. There are six movements:
1 – “Earth, Revolving”
The basic materials for both glass and ceramics (sand and clay) are, essentially, “earth.” This movement reflects on the materials and the processes used in creating ceramic art, from the blending and mixing of the clay, sand, and minerals, to the continuous, rhythmic action of forming the art object – especially when employing the revolving potter’s wheel.
2 – “The Great Sand Sea”
It is generally believed that the first (nearly) pure, clear, glass on this planet was formed many thousands of years ago by some kind of intense explosion (possibly caused by a closely passing meteor) in earth’s “Great Sand Sea” – the vast desert in modern Egypt and Libya, featuring sand of almost pure silica. This explosion carried sand high in the air where it was melted by the heat, then cooled as it descended into globules of transparent glass (some pieces still can be found). This movement explores, abstractly, the paradox of any great desert of sand – the countless tiny grains that collectively create an enormous and powerful plastic mass constantly shifting and reforming – and one significant interaction of sand and space that introduced glass to the world.
3 – “Clarity”
Glass is an “amorphous” solid – like ice, a frozen liquid. It is also transparent to visible light; it is “clear.” Yet, glass is famously resistant to corrosion and impervious to liquids. In this movement, I have tried to evoke this combination of strength and clarity by revoicing cluster chords (built of adjacent pitches) to be very widely dispersed among the instruments of the ensemble, in pursuit (musically) of a powerfully dense transparency, and by creating music that is lucid and restful – a “reflection,” a “moment of clarity.” (Isn’t it interesting that those qualities of glass should have such meaning?)
4 – “Luster”
Once naturally formed glass was found in the Great Sand Sea, and prized for its beauty, many advances were made nearby in the production of new glass and in all aspects of kiln-formed art. Scientists, especially in Syria, discovered a new decorative technique for both glass and ceramic objects with a new and remarkable fired enamel that gave such objects the appearance of bright, shimmering metal – a transformation akin to the goals of alchemists. This technique, called “luster,” remains important to the present in ceramic and art glass production. Beginning with a broad evocation of some accompanimental textures found in traditional Syrian music, very simple melodic ideas are introduced built of alternating pitches and elaborations of slow trills. These simple melodic ideas endure and develop through a series of musical transformations as the trill motive gradually evolves into a musical shimmer signifying the bright metallic luster of these beautiful objects, ancient and modern.
5 – “Mirrors and Prisms”
Because glass begins as a liquid that can follow surface tension (like ice) as it cools, the surface of glass is ordinarily microscopically smooth, which accounts for the reflective quality of glass, especially in mirrors. And because glass has a different “refractive index” than the air around it, objects viewed through glass may appear to change shape, bend, curve, turn upside down, and light may divide into all the colors of the spectrum. This movement imagines a hall of musical mirrors and prisms in which melodic shapes can be heard reflecting, inverting, changing contours and splitting into the many (many) colors of the Akropolis Reed Quintet.
6 – “Earth, Still”
The first two movements were inspired by the active motion always required to create in clay or glass. But all kiln-formed art reaches a creative stage when the action stops and the object must take its final shape – a shape that is always subtly changed by the kiln and the cooling in ways that are impossible to precisely predict. No matter how detailed the initial plan and skillful the execution, in the end we are required to recognize the beauty in the surprising final product. This movement draws on material from the first two movements, then pursues the goal of becoming still, unchanging, permanent – even as the life of the planet continues all around, and random meteors continue to pass, and sometimes explode.
— Paul Seitz