A Franciscan Octave

This was originally a charity CD for Franciscan Aid.
 
This project uses a form of medieval modes as a musical equivalent to the formality of icon painting. These modes (different scales starting on each white note on the piano) have particular expressive qualities which match their traditional symbolic meanings, planets or muses. The ancient view of the cosmos is based on the laws of harmony, projected into space. The ancient idea of planets circling earth, each emitting their own note (the music of the spheres) was based on the assumption that the cosmos must reflect the natural laws of harmony. In other words the miracle of the musical scale, explained by Pythagoras, came first, and the ancient cosmology followed it.

To use these modes, with the simplest harmony, is like an icon painter being restricted to a few significant colours and images.
 
The music, as I say, is as simple as possible, sometimes serious and intense, sometimes just fun. Each piece celebrates a different Franciscan character or idea.

A Franciscan Octave
 
I St Francis before the Cross
The work begins with St Francis's intense devotion to the cross, particularly the crucifix at San Damiano where he heard a voice saying "Rebuild my Church". The mode used at the start is that associated with the vision of the cross in Dante's Paradise

II The salutation of the Virgin

St Francis's devotion to the Virgin was "inexpressible", according to Thomas of Celano. This piece tries to avoid sentimentality and tries to include both joy and tragedy.

III A quiddity (Duns Scotus)

Following Dun Scotus Franciscans tended to believe that it was the individuality of things that mattered. There may be archetypal realities in Nature, but everything sings its own song. This is a piece which is just itself, a scherzo, mixing all the moods of the eight modes.

IV The Lover and the Beloved (Ramon Lull)
Ramon Lull explains that his book of meditations was inspired by Sufi poetry. Franciscans have always had close relationships with other faiths. They may have wanted to convert people, but by showing common truth rather than by force.

V Going mad for Christ (Jacopone of Todi)

Jacopone's 13th century poetry is angry, tortured and wildly ecstatic!

VI The miracle of St Clare
St Clare maintained the integrity of Franciscan tradition after St Francis's death. There is a story (which I first knew from Respighi's orchestral work "Church Windows") that when she was unable to leave her sick bed the cathedral mass appeared to her in a vision. Hence she is patron saint of television!

VII The Earthly Paradise (Dante)
Dante was very likely a member of Franciscan third order for lay people. His Divine Comedy is strongly Franciscan in its emphasis on real individuals, even Beatrice who is a real person but also a revelation of God. This piece follows very closely Dante's meeting with the mysterious Matelda and the return of Beatrice, who addresses him: "Look well, I am, I am Beatrice."

VIII The Harmony of the World (Francesco Giorgi)
Francesco Giorgi, a Venetian friar, wrote a monumental book "De Harmonia Mundi" which was a huge influence on the Elizabethans, both celebrating the underlying harmony of Nature, but also helping to introducing Jewish cabala to Christians. This did a lot to increase tolerance. Giorgi may have been a political schemer. He advised Henry VIII favourably on the legality of his divorce, which certainly raised his profile. This dance follows Giorgi's harmonious plan, all based on threes for the trinity, for a Franciscan church in Venice.

A Franciscan Octave


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