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
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
To use these modes, with the simplest harmony, is
like an icon painter being restricted to a few significant colours and
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
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)
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