Cantus de Stellis

Jones, Kevin [Composer] (2008) Cantus de Stellis. (orchestral work with chorus). (Unpublished)


The research objectives were: 1. To produce a work which contributed to an on-going investigation by the composer into means of creatively mapping physical shapes, data and natural phenomena into musical sound. 2. To investigate the theological background to the chosen text – the Sanctus – and potential relationships to objective 1. 3. To realise objectives 1 and 2 in the form of a musical composition which would be performable by a competent amateur chorus, and which would communicate the concepts and context meaningfully to a general audience by drawing upon some of the more accessible styles, idioms and pastiche employed by contemporary composers. The traditional Latin text of the Sanctus includes the curious text Dominus Deus Sabaoth, typically translated ‘God of Power and Might’. Further investigation suggests that the older but somewhat cryptic rendition ‘God of Hosts’ is more accurate. This reflects an ancient perception of the stars as celestial beings; a heavenly host performing a cosmic dance to the music of the spheres. Hence, in composing this setting of the Sanctus, extensive use was made of melodic motives, musical shapes and harmonic patterns derived from the patterns and motions of the heavens – in particular featuring some of the familiar constellations which the Bible identifies by name. In addition to representations of the Doppler Effect and The Big Bang, the cyclic motion of the heavens is echoed in the in the use of simple, repeating harmonic cycles, and scale-like passages which emulate the endlessly-rising ‘Shepherd Tone’ effect. In the opening Sanctus seven and nine-note motives are generated from patterns of stars in the Great Bear (Plough or Big Dipper) and Pleiades respectively, with intervals between notes sometimes stretched or compressed to match different orientations as the constellations orbit the sky. The Hosanna section derives from Orion, the hunter, whilst the Benedictus loosely references the zigzag-like sequences of Cassiopeia’s sloping W (or M) shape.

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