Commission: The Cleveland Museum of Art
Premiere: Tapestry: Chamber Music of Margaret Brouwer, Cleveland Museum of Art, Sandra Simon, soprano, Jeannette Sorrell, harpsichord, June 6, 2001
Duration: 17 minutes
Instrumentation: Soprano, harpsichord, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion
I. The Fiery Power
II. Nederlandse Licht
This work was written for harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell, soprano Sandra Simon and The Cleveland Museum of Art honoring their acquisition of a German style harpsichord (after Michael Mietke) built by Bruce Kennedy of Amsterdam. In writing for these outstanding early music performers from Apollo’s Fire, and for the harpsichord, it was the perfect opportunity to draw inspiration from earlier centuries. My intent was to create a collage within my own music of texts and music from the twelfth to the mid-twentieth century.
The twelfth century nun, Hildegard von Bingen, was an important religious figure whose mystical visions of God are filled with glowing and unique imagery. A few sentences from one of these visions are used as the text in the first movement. The English translation from Latin (by Robert Carver) is used with permission of the Crossroads Publishing Co. In Nederlandse Licht, I have quoted briefly from two musical works that come from my own Dutch heritage, one secular and one religious. Since the overlay and mixing of the secular and the religious is so prominent in Dutch history, this combination seems right. I have picked the chanson, L’autre d’antan, by Netherlands composer Johannes Ockeghem (ca.1425 – 1497), and De XXVII Psalm, God is mijn licht, mijn heil, wien zou ik vreezen? The latter is taken from a Dutch part-book format of the Psalms (Het Boek nevens de Gezangen bij de Hervormde Kerk van Nederland, 1773), which has been handed down in my family. Even though both quoted works were originally vocal, this movement features the harpsichord and does not use voice. The final movement, Atoms, mixes historical recitative style with my own contemporary musical language. The vocal text is a statement that physicist Richard Feynman made in a 1961 lecture to undergraduates at Caltech, as found in James Gleick’s book, "Genius". The light, sun, water, and stars of Hildegard and Psalm 27 seem in some mystical way to combine very well with the 20th century understanding of atoms.
"This music succeeds in sounding old and new at the same time, without having recourse to the harsher, polystylistic, ironic modes. Strange scurryings, imitations, and instrumental collisions accompany the Classical echoes, mixing imaginative glee with intricate motivic growth and occasional spookiness. Intellect, sensuality, and spirituality all meet in the vocal line, as in Hildegard's words." - Paul Ingram, Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, May/June 2004
"Composer Margaret Brouwer is that rarity, a contemporary composer whose music is accessible and engaging for a wide range of audiences, but whose work doesn't sound like movie music. She's not afraid to be spiky when spikiness is indicted, but there's never a sense in any of these works that she's using atonality for its own sake. And often her sonic world is utterly luminous in its beauty." - Sarah Bryan Miller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 2004
"Some contemporary composers concoct sounds that only their mothers could love. Not Margaret Brouwer, who seems to acknowledge the fact that someone else will be listening. Her music instantly enchants the ear. Brouwer's newest work, "Light," is a radiant meeting of the old and the new. The score brilliantly reflects the imagery and energy of its title...but there's so much more to Brouwer's concept than mere sonorities: the three movements deftly layer styles of long ago with contemporary elements...Sudden bursts of ecstasy pop up throughout "Light," whose generous tonal gestures and subtly spices harmonies and instrumental combinations are hallmarks of Brouwer's art." - Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer, 2001
"Margaret Brouwer's fantastically eclectic "Light" filtered fragments of medieval and Renaissance pieces through a prism of free-ranging melody." - Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 2005
"In a piece titled 'Light'...Brouwer was at her best, revealing a headlong intelligence eager to borrow ideas from a 12th century nun (Hildegard von Bingen), a venerated Renaissance composer (Johannes Ockeghem) and a university professor lecturing on atoms." - Elaine Guregian, Akron Beacon Journal, June 2001