About the piece
This Ravelled Dust tells a story of nuclear proliferation. We often hear about the practical and political problems of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. But it is just as important to address these issues in terms of ethics, the human spirit, and the myths and religious symbols that underlie contemporary Western culture.
In developing nuclear energy, we have opened something that can never be closed again. This piece borrows imagery from the Old Testament to explore this very current dilemma.
The piece focuses on the phrase: "His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord" [Isaiah 11:3], and the paradox of true wisdom ("delight") through fear, Biblically understood as love, awe, and respect. In other words, coming to terms with our fear of self-destruction can result in a profound understanding of our true nature as "fallen" creatures, and, ultimately, a desire to embrace and even live better from that fact.
The choir sings the seven "O Antiphons" — a set of prayers sung in Christian churches over many centuries — alternating with episodes of Muir-Miller’s poem Morning Glory: Radiant Night, set for Tenor and Bass soloists and accompanied by a small group of instruments; in the latter sections the choir (now in a background role), and three boy sopranos, interject brief comments from the Old Testament.
I wrote this piece in close collaboration with Robin Muir-Miller, a respected Australian poet and also an experienced musician; her input, entirely via email, was integral to the piece from first glimmers to the final product. The piece draws from Benjamin Britten's church opera Curlew River, and includes quotes from Handel's Messiah and from early Celtic sources.
POEM (scroll down for full libretto)
Morning Glory: Radiant Night
‘And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.’ Genesis I
© Robin Muir-Miller
(poem at far left; other texts indented)
TENOR / PERCUSSION / HARP / VIOLA [stanza 1]: (video timing, 2:20)
a gauzed and
moulds its singers,
PART 2 (video, 6:08)
BASS SOLO / VIOLA / FLUTE [stanza 2]:
TENOR / BASS SOLOS:
ALL [stanza 3]:
TENOR / FLUTE: (video, 9:57)
PART 3 (video, 11:47)
TENOR SOLO / FLUTE [stanza 4]:
sloughing its wiles,
the malus wood exhales.
A raunchy, luring aroma
BASS SOLO / FRENCH HORN / DB.BASS [stanza 5]: (video, 17:25)
and gust awry:
Lyrics and garlands mutate.
PART 4 (video, 20:43)
BASS SOLO / HARP / VIOLA [stanza 6]:
TENOR SOLO [stanza 7]:
TENOR/BASS SOLOS / INSTR. [stanza 7]:
Strains of a murmuring
PART 5 (video, 26:33)
[overlapping:] TENOR/BASS SOLOS / INSTR. [stanza 8]:
TENOR SOLO / PERC. / FLUTE [stanza 9]:
rasp and hollow [now with choir:]
TENOR SOLO / VIOLA / FLUTE / DB.BASS
PART 6 (video, 34:45)
BASS SOLO / INSTR. [stanza 10]:
TENOR SOLO, VIOLA, DOUBLE BASS:
onto the earth
PART 7 (video, 39:58)
moulds its singers,
Boy sopranos: Luke Hudson, Ebuka Moneme, and Paul Picotte
Choir and Ensemble members:
Video by Great Northern Productions/Rick Harper; Audio by PaulHodgeAudio.com
The cantata begins in the Garden of Eden. Human beings, seeking new knowledge and egged on by our twin the Serpent, create a lawless and unstoppable fungus. The story leads through the ensuing conflagration to utter grief, fused with new understanding and chastened joy.
The story is narrated by the Tenor and Bass soloists, while the choir interjects reflection and commentary, like the chorus in an ancient Greek drama.
Audio and plot highlights | back to top
GARDEN = HARP — the Original Garden of Eden, universal order, the Law of God.
Within the Garden we meet ADAM (all humankind), and Adam's twin, the SERPENT:
ADAM = VIOLA — Humankind, inherently imbued with grief.
SERPENT = FLUTE — Adam's twin, but more knowing.
When the Serpent brings wisdom to Adam, together they transgress the Garden's laws, and their energy mutates into:
MUSHROOM = FRENCH HORN — the spreading fungus of nuclear proliferation, and then destruction.
Mushroom's very nature leads inevitably to:
ARSON = DOUBLE BASS / VIOLA plucking their strings (a paltry shadow of the more lustrous strings of the HARP/Garden). After Mushroom siezes control, the HARP is heard no more. The plucked strings of the VIOLA and BASS place us instead...
NEW WISDOM = CHOIR — After accepting our fate, the "rapturous singing" of the CHOIR transforms us: [bass:] "we shall be changed."
In the end, the refrain sung earlier by the boy sopranos, "His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord", becomes more universal, sung and played by everyone together: "Our delight shall be in the fear of the Lord; we shall fear the Lord" — that is, we will fear in a good way (to hear this moment, return to the video and complete lyrics above).
(this piece and its combination of texts are intended as an object of contemplation, open to anyone to interpret as they wish; the interpretations of the poem offered here are the composer's and do not necessarily reflect the original intentions of the poet outside the context of this piece)
(poem copyright Robin Muir-Miller)