Vestiges of Time (2015)

for chamber orchestra

 

commissioned by Bilkent Symphony Orchestra for their 2015/16 Season

 

When Heinrich Schliemann discovered what is now believed to be the Homeric city of Troy, he had excavated nine layers of archeological remains. These nine cities were built on top each other at different time periods during a 4300-year span. Like an immense onion, each layer had to be striped away to be examined. Nowadays, modern cities grow through intertwining layers that belong to a multitude of time periods. In no art form would this kind of inconsistent co-existence go unnoticed. Very few other cities possess layers as diverse and as intertwined as Istanbul where the new has been built around the old without any kind of apparent strategy or planning. This creates a highly complex and unintentional urban texture which results in a unique experience for its dwellers. Pass through Vatan Street in Aksaray, you will see a magnificent 13th century Byzantine building, Feneri Isa Mosque, hiding timidly next to the dull mid-late 20th century urban texture.

 

Objects of art have an inertia to transform over time. Time effects physical objects more profoundly. A building may deteriorate, decline or break down over time. The city of Troy that Greeks knew in 1200BC is quite different than what we see today.  What we experience today is in ruins, all that remains after what time and men had inflicted on the city. The Feneri Isa Mosque in Istanbul is almost completely different from its 13th century version when it was completed. Some of the changes were natural consequences, some of were men made. And buildings also have to live with their surroundings that constantly change. Art works in written form like literature and music also change but through the transformation of their mediums. Literature transforms over time because languages change, and so do musical works because performance practices change as well.

 

When Byzantine Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, this created an enormous trauma in the Western world. One of the most significant  musical expressions of this trauma was a set of four pieces by Guillaume Dufay, the most prominent composer of the day. Only one of these pieces survives today. We only know the existence of the others through Dufay’s letter to Medicis. The 4-part motet that we have today, Lamentatio Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae exists entirely unchanged for almost 600 years.

 

My piece, Vestiges of Time, arose form these simple questions: What happens if musical works were like pieces of architecture which deteriorate over time? What would happen if Dufay’s piece was in fact a building in Istanbul and went through all the changes that Feneri Isa Mosque had gone through? What would happen if it was like the Homeric Troy, one of the many layers built on top of each other? What would happen if Dufay’s piece had to exist forever within a foreign and strange environment, with very unlikely neighbors? This piece then, takes the cantus firmus of Dufay’s motet and treats it as a physical object/building that is vulnerable to time and change. Dufay’s all too familiar sound world is transferred to my world that is at times quite foreign and almost hostile. Eventually over time, the foreign and the familiar work together to transform each other. The piece then builds gradually layer upon layer until everything merges together in a big grinder.

 

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