Seneca’s Zodiac

for mixed choir, instruments played by the choristers, and prepared grand piano

Seneca’s Zodiac, commissioned in 2011 by Philadelphia-based virtuosos The Crossing for their Seneca Sounds project (to which I also contributed) again includes an array of non-vocal sound-sources — tuned glasses, Tibetan bowls, a rain stick, a bass drum, combs and paper and a prepared piano. Instruments and voices (who also whistle and audibly breathe) meld into one, creating a soundworld of compelling otherness. The result is at once primordial and modern, spiritual and scientific: the twelve constellations collapsing into the sea described by Seneca in his tragedy Thyestes are given a set of pitches based on the positions of their stars. These are traced in the score for the performers to see, but also traced by a prepared piano for listeners to hear. After a hair-raising opening telling of the coming end of the world, the evocations of each constellation are richly characterised as a mysterious ritual that subsides into stillness and exhalation for the fall of the Fish, “last of the stars of heaven”.

— from notes by Gabriel Jackson © 2013

Read more
Year
2011
Commissioner
The Crossing and conductor Donald Nally
Instrumentation
SSSAAATTTBBB, water-tuned glasses, bass drum, rain tree, tibetan bowls (low, medium, high), comb-and-paper, prepared piano
Lyrics
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c 4BC–65), Chorus from Thyestes, translated by Frank Justus Miller (1858–1938)
Language
English
Duration
11 min 30 sec
Premiere
The Crossing and conductor Donald Nally at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, PA on 26 June 2011
Score
ISMN
979-0-69795-294-2 (MB1386)
Recordings
State Choir LatvijaAt the Foot of the Sky