Missa Solis - Requiem for Eli

Symphony orchestra

SATB Chorus

&

male treble solo

(duration ~ 44:00)

Now available from Rimshot Music

nigel westlake conducts the sso

First rehearsal of Missa Solis Requiem for Eli - Sydney Symphony (video courtesy of the SMH)

Missa Solis - Requiem for Eli has its origins in an ancient Italian ode to the Sun “O Sol, Almo Immortale” -

My joy is born
Every time I gaze at my beautiful sun
But my life dies
When I cannot look at it,
For the very sight is bliss to me.
Oh sun, immortal life giver
Do not hide, for I know
That when I am unable to see you
Life could not be worse

This text comes to us courtesy of a madrigal written by the Italian renaissance composer Giovan Leonardo Primavera in about 1560.
As was a common practice of the day, this madrigal was then parodied and incorporated into a rare example of secular mass by one of Primavera’s better known compatriots, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina in his “Missa Nasce la gioia mia”.

In the year 2000 it was suggested to me by filmmaker John Weiley that I incorporate this ancient ode to the sun into my score for his Imax film “Solarmax”.

Containing images of the sun’s furious surface & a narrative that probed mankind’s relationship with the sun from the perspective of scientific, historical & religious viewpoints, I embarked on a search for all manner of diverse musical material in order to support the massive imagery, recent scientific research & weighty metaphors contained within the film.

I began by setting Primavera’s text in the style of a slow moving, four part chorale maintaining the original Italian, and it became a pivotal recurring motif in the score. Our “Hymn to the Sun”.

I remember asking the director what sort of music he had in mind for the final sequence of the film, a dramatic fly through space toward the inferno of the sun’s surface, where we crash through the plasma and emerge into the starfield on the other side. John’s response was as succinct as it was terrifying – “We are looking at the eye of God”.

I was attracted to this idea of a tangible God.

A Sun God that has been worshipped by civilisations throughout history and recognised as the source of all life, underpinning entire belief systems & patterns of worship on the omnipotent power of our nearest star.

Some years later, my wife Janice suggested to Colin Cornish (then Director of Artistic Planning, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) that the Solarmax score would have the potential to be developed into a concert suite.
Colin followed up this suggestion with a commission, and I began to formulate ideas for a kind of secular Mass to the Sun called Missa Solis.

The term Mass or Missa as used in this context, is devoid of any liturgical connotations or traditional latin text. Though far from being a parody of a traditional Mass, my intentions were to celebrate the miracle and power of a star we rarely think about, yet is the essential engine of all life on earth. Our sun.

Within weeks of finishing the first draft of a 25 minute concert suite called Missa Solis, my life was completely shattered by the death of my young son Eli.

Many things, including music completely lost their relevance & meaning. I was cast into an abyss of grief & yearning. All plans went on hold, future work prospects were postponed or cancelled and Missa Solis lay idly on the desk for a year.

When I finally worked up the will and the courage to resume my seat in the studio, in the forefront of my mind was the desire to express my grief at the loss of my son through music.

As the pages of Missa Solis stared back at me from the desk, I saw within them the potential to further expand upon this material in a way that might somehow reflect the enormity of my loss.
I began from scratch, pulling apart my ideas & re-orchestrating them, adding sections and refining previous material.
Working in the background were the writers John Weiley, Hannie Rayson & Michael Cathcart who generously donated their time and creativity to the task of assembling a text.
With their assistance I discovered and fitted a diverse collection of poems and verses, some freshly written and others from the deep annals of time.

From Phaoroah Akhenaten’s severe “Hymn to the Aten,” to the joyous account of Gallieo Gallilie’s discovery of the telescope “The Starry Messenger”, the common thread all the while being mankind’s relationship with the sun and Primavera’s ancient ode “O Sol, Almo Immortale’ remaining a recurring theme.

Thus over a long and protracted evolution, and forged by overwhelming tragedy, Missa Solis – Requiem for Eli has become a profound expression not only of grief, but also of joy and celebration of the life of my beloved son Eli who’s life was cruelly taken some weeks before his 22nd birthday.

The work is in 8 movements.
The first two movements Prologue and At the Edge take their cue from the opening lines of John Weiley’s Imax documentary Solarmax –

We are at the edge of a spiral galaxy.
Far from the galactic Core.
This small planet is our earth.
Its pole crowned with a circle of Northern Lights.
The whole planet glowing in the infra red warmth
of a star we rarely think about
A star we call sun.

In keeping with its film score origins, the music of the Prologue is a literal interpretation of this opening narrative.
Our earth is seen from space, spinning, vulnerable. Our gaze turns to the sun and we glimpse the unimaginable violence of the suns surface.

2. At the Edge uses fragments of the original Solarmax narration as a departure point from which to develop and explore some of the scientific concepts and ideas enshrined within the film, in particular the sound of the sun singing, a recent discovery by the international solar terrestrial program.
The chorus chanting “sun” in numerous dialects forms a bridge to the climax of the movement.
I am indebted to John Weiley for his permission to use his narration and to the writers Hannie Rayson and Michael Cathcart for their assistance with the text in this movement.

3. Song of Transience is an excerpt from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.
Although the book has its roots in the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, Sogyal Rinpoche has incorporated many diverse writings and teachings as expressions of wisdom.  The words of Buddha and Shakespeare, as quoted from the book are sung by a solo male treble as a reminder of the preciousness of life on earth, the qualities of compassion and the transient nature of all living things.

I am indebted to Sogyal Rinpoche for his kind permission to use these excerpts from his famous book.

4. Aurora is a short instrumental interlude inspired by the spectacular lights at the earths poles caused by the bombardment of the earth’s magnetosphere by the sun’s electrons.

5. Nasce la gioia mia
Is a four part chorale based on Primavera’s ancient text “O Sol, Almo Immortale” and segues directly into the 6th movement, a virtuosic percussion septet.

6. Hymn to the Aten.
The Great Hymn to the Aten was found in the tomb of Ay, in the rock tombs at Amarna, Egypt. It is attributed to Pharaoh Akhenaten, and gives us a glimpse of the artistic outpouring of the Amarna period. The hymn suggests that Akhenaten considered Aten (the orb of the sun) as the only god, and creator of the universe.
The hymn has been recently translated from the original Egyptian hieroglyphics by numerous scholars into a variety of interpretations.
I have derived my own version of the hymn from the numerous translations.
Sincere thanks to John Weiley for introducing me to this text.

7. Sidereus Nuncius
In March 1610, Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher Galileo Galilei published the first scientific treatise based on observations of the moon and stars made through his recently invented telescope. Although brief, his book contains an infectious excitement of his discoveries, which form the foundation upon which all modern observational astronomy is based.

The text is a succinct and liberal translation of the original work and I am indebted to writer Michael Cathcart for his assistance.

8. O Sol Almo Immortale
The chorale based on Primavera’s ancient ode to the sun is heard one last time in a dense orchestration that mirrors and expands upon the climax of the prologue.
The final bars symbolize a laying to rest.

Resquiescat in pace Eli

Composer's Requiem for son

from  The Australian

by Ian Cuthbert