composition

Music for a New Millennium

for Cello, Celesta, and Chimes

  • Genre
    Chamber
  • Commissioned by/written for
    Tess Remy-Schumacher & Mr. Cello
  • Year completed
    2001
  • Year revised
  • Timing
    4:44
  • Catalog number
    173
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The composition of Music for a New Millennium was begun just as the new century and millennium was dawning at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean, January 1, 2001, which means that I had to begin work on it the morning of December 31, 2000 in his time zone (Eastern Standard Time). I put the concluding notes down on paper just as the New Year of 2001 was dawning in his local time, making this one of the very first pieces of 21st-century music. For the significance of such an occasion, I decided to employ a new system of harmony I had developed, or perhaps discovered, more than 20 years earlier, but up to this point had never employed in any piece. I named this system Greek Inverse Harmony, as its principle is derived from Greek modes and perceptions. The principle scale of ancient Greek music was the Ionian mode, which corresponds to the scale derived from the notes E to E on the white keys of the piano keyboard. This scale is also known as the Phrygian mode. my interest was piqued by two discoveries in conjunction with this scale: First of all, the Greeks considered scalar motion opposite from the perception of that of Western musicians: In our system, moving from left to right on a piano keyboard produces an ascending scale, but from the Greek perception, that same scale would have been considered descending. I made the further discovery that the Ionian mode played in an ascending manner from the Greek perspective, contained the exact sequence of intervals as the primary scale of Western music, the major scale, played in an ascending manner to our perception. In either case, the sequence of intervals is M2, M2, m2, M2, M2, M2, m2. This discovery led him to the further conclusion that, to an ancient Greek, the top note in a Western chord would actually, to his ears, be the bass pitch. Of course, I am well aware that ancient Greek music was a melodic music, with no harmonies in a Western sense, so Greek Inverse Harmony is a conceptual extension of Greek ideas. So it is from these discoveries that the system of Greek Inverse Harmony was extrapolated: Any series of chords in Western music, such as the simple progression of I, IV, V, I (Tonic, Subdominant, Dominant, Tonic), could be respelled, spelling each chord in succession from the top note down, rather than the bass pitch upwards (speaking, of course, from the Western perspective). So, for example, the tonic chord in C Major would be in the Western system be spelled C-E-G from the bass pitch upward, while the tonic chord in Greek Inverse Harmony would be spelled (from the top note downward, E-C-A. Note that the key of E in Greek Inverse Harmony would be equivalent to our C Major scale, as it would be the key written without accidentals. Similarly, the dominant chord in C Major would be G-B-D, and in Greek Inverse Harmony would be A-F-D. Every chord in traditional Western harmony, therefore, has a Greek Inverse Harmony equivalent, as any chord may be spelled from the vantage point in Greek music and thought of considering the top note as the fundamental or bass pitch. With these concepts in mind, I composed the present work. At the outset, the cello plays the fundamental Ionian scale, ascending according to the Greek perspective. Immediately afterwards comes a straightforward setting of the hymn, Our God, Our Help in Ages Past, but recast according to the principles of Greek Inverse Harmony. This hymn the composer felt particularly appropriate to a work celebrating the new millennium, as the same sovereighn God who has ruled his universe since time immemorial will continue to do so until the end of time. At the end of the work, a portion of the tune, in its original incarnation, is heard in the chimes, while the celesta reiterates the hymn in the new harmonic system. The solo cello concludes the work with a reiteration of the ascending Ionian scale to suggest that God is unchanging throughout eternity. Music for a New Millennium was given its premiere at the Chiefly Canfield Festival by the dedicatee on February 19, 2001.

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