Symphony no. 30 "The Consolations of Music" op. 114 was completed on June 8th 2014.
It's in the nature of a graduation exercise for the College of the Muses. The title refers to the story which forms part of "The Ravello Dialogues". The challenge was to write a piece following the eight planetary modes that Gafori and others associated with the muses in the Renaissance. Each of these modes, based on a different note of the diatonic or white note scale, was associated with the qualities of a planet or a muse. This may seem like a fanciful idea but there is an ancient tradition behind this and there are (possibly hazy) musical reasons why it might have some meaning.
If there is a meaning (let's imagine there is) it's the idea that these planets, or muses, or modes, reflect the fundamental harmonies of nature. In the medieval mind (as with St Francis) everything in Nature was made of the four elements and the influences of these harmonies which the stars seemed to represent. We may see the heavens differently. We dismiss that harmonious view of the cosmos - and yet Harmony is still true.
These modes can be used very simply, using just white notes, but there are more expressive and sophisticated possibilities. If we use the Dorian mode, which is like a minor scale but with a B natural rather than a B flat, but harmonise it in a conventional classical way we can have wonderful clashes. The harmony might insist on a chord of A major but the melody demand a clashing C natural. This is, often, the "blue note" effect and this device of using modal melody against conventional harmonies is a key element of blues and jazz - and jazz uses modes in a sophisticated way to make an effect.
So, rather than try to recreate a completely imaginary ancient music, we can use the modes (as they were imagined in the Renaissance) in the context of western classical harmony which is, I feel, a miraculous gift however "unnatural". After all, all art is the combination of nature and artifice.
Another irresistable device is "false relation." This is the clash of minor and major notes in scales which is, mysteriously, a feature particularly found in English Renaissance music - a distant relation of the blue note.
So, the muses might say, the composer's task is to write a piece using all eight modes, in sequence, but with the full resources of instrumentation and harmony at his disposal. In this piece each section begins with the mode in its "white note" position. As it is a continuous twenty minute symphony each section must lead into the next. This invites a very wide range of keys to be used,
There are eight modes rather than seven. The seven planets rise from Aeolian on A and are followed by the mode of Urania, the muse of astronomy or theoretical harmony, who belongs to the celestial sphere. This mode is, possibly, identical to the first, the lunar Aeolian. but, using this style of composition, it can be differentiated by using purely "white notes", which it does, giving a sense of arrival.
I don't know if the muses, and especially Urania, would pass this graduation exercise but it is a necessary part of their musical education, which continues....
The sections are clearly defined, sometimes linked, sometimes not, though the symphony is intended to be heard as a continuous integrated work. The modes have many qualities. The music does not pretend to represent the planets or the muses, though perhaps, in a curious way, it does.
Thalia, the muse of comedy, has no mode. She is the muse of earth, and everything earthly is a mixture of all these qualities. All the music which we can imagine is Thalia's, as, of course, is this Symphony. We cannot write the Music of the Spheres, only explore the ways in which that music sings in Nature.