Enchanted glass (revised)
(zheng and harpsichord)

Janet Danielson
Composition Date: 2008
Duration: 00:10:00
Genre: Strings (plectral), + Keyboard, Misc, Solo

Instrumentation:

Instrumentation Set Number 1:
  • 1 x Ethnic plucked strings
  • 1 x Harpsichord
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Programme Note:
The harpsichord and zheng are variations on a common theme; they each produce sound via plucked steel strings over a wooden resonator. Yet their commonality provides backdrop for key distinctions between the ethos of Europe and Asia. In the early seventeenth century when the harpsichord was at its peak in Europe, Francis Bacon proposed that the human mind should be like a “clear and equal glass, wherein the beams of things should reflect according to their true incidence”. The precision and clarity of the harpsichord gave voice to Bacon’s conception, its fixed tuning and mechanical plucking system ensuring the sort of stable and uniform environment that Bacon envisaged an ideal reflective human mind to be. Developments in tuning enabled the same musical theme to be transposed from key to key, mirroring the seventeenth-century universe of infinite but uniform time and space.
In contrast, the zheng has a flexible tuning system, and its strings are animated by infinitely variable human touch. Its legend-filled history goes back at least four thousand years, so it carries a sense of mystery in its origins. Yet its standard pentatonic system makes changes of key centre impossible without cumbersome re-tuning. Bacon speaks of the pre-enlightenment human mind as “an enchanted glass, full of superstition and imposture, if it be not delivered and reduced." In Bacon’s terms, the Zheng, devoid of any key mechanism to deliver and reduce tones, is a construction of an “enchanted glass.”
Enchanted Glass explores the interface between the enchanted and the “clear and equal” musical worlds and requires a kind of listening sensitive to tuning changes. The harpsichord is tuned so it has the capability of moving from untempered pure tuning to tempered tuning to blatantly out-of-tune. The zheng is tuned in a set of five pure fifths; each string can be modified, as each string has its own separate high bridge.
Enchanted Glass demonstrates what happens when harpsichord chords decay while the zheng tones bend, so that even in the decay the instruments are in dialogue. There is a sardonic march which spirals into increasingly odd tunings with an almost electrical effect. The zheng is also able to emulate inarticulate vocal sounds by using a bow, and perform slippery arabesques using a metal slide.

It opens with each instrument presenting its own sound world in a motoristic/jazzy way--an undifferentiated multiplicity. Then after a few questioning motifs, a pure and crystalline melody descends from the highest reaches of the zheng. The harpsichord joins it in a delicate counterpoint, but once it has reached a conversational range, it degenerates into the march which eventually slumps down into the fluctuating-decay chords. This is followed by a journey out of the realm of musical gravity and measured time, where the tones slip and slide into billowing glissandi. The chords appear again and form a transition to a taut high waltz which is cut off by a section in which the bowed zheng snarls and groans within the narrow boundary of a fourth enforced by the harpsichord. But then there is a little upward shift of this boundary, the two instruments converge, and finally the pure high pentatonic melody appears, this time with echoes of the taut waltz. A last appearance of the series of chords opens out into section in which the energy of the beginning returns but with the instruments in complete collaboration, moving vigorously towards fulness and unity--a unity which is, however, not yet a termination of variety.

Commissioned by: Mei Han

Premiere Information:
St. John's Anglican Church (Open Ears Festival), Kitchener, Ontario Cynthia Hiebert and Mei Han, presented by Open Ears New Music Festival

CATALOGUE INFO:

  • Call Number:
  • MI 4331 D186en 2008
  • Genre:
  • Strings (plectral), + Keyboard, Misc, Solo
  • Date of Acquisition:
  • October 15, 2009
  • Type:
  • Print-music, Published by CMC
  • Physical Description:
  • 1 score ((25) p.) ; 32 cm.
    25 Pages
    Height: 32 cm
    Parts page count: 21
    1 part (21 p.) ;
    Height: 35.3 cm
  • Additional Information:
  • Harpsichord and zheng
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