Prayers for a Feverish Planet – Program Notes VII.

Beverly Lewis • Stephen F. Lilly • Casey Mathur • Connor David McCain • John McLachlan

Beverly Lewis, Canada                                               

Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin (2017)

“Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin” (“In peace and joy I now depart”) is a hymn tune composed by Martin Luther in 1524. Luther also wrote the text, which paraphrases, in German, the Nunc dimittis, also known as the Canticle of Simeon. I quote this melody several times in my chorale prelude for piano by the same name. 

The piece is about the oppressive weight of terminal illness and the exhausting waiting associated with it. The blurriness in the piece represents the drug-induced sleep of the dying cancer patient and the tension represents the urgency that takes place when she wakes up and there is someone who wants to talk to her to spill out their feelings when all she wants is to be put out of her misery again. 

The relentless little entr’acte bits of music between where the chorale melody is played represent the endless waiting that is done by the ill patient, waiting for visitors, waiting for test results and more bad news, waiting for the next game plan that the doctor dreams up, waiting for a fix, waiting to die. It also represents the visitor’s waiting for the loved one to wake and converse. 

The drama at the end is representative of the patient’s victory over pain enabled by her life coming to an end. It is also representative of the relief that the visitors feel, even though they are sad and even though they may not have had the chance or seized upon the opportunity to say what they wanted to say. 

Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin was premiered by pianist, Dr. Janet Hammock in Sackville New Brunswick as part of a benefit concert in support of Tantramar Hospice Palliative Care Organization. I feel that this piece is connected to climate change because of its subject of death and dying, which is exactly what the earth is experiencing as climate change increases and its effects worsen. It is also perhaps worthy of mention that much human terminal cancer is caused, at least in part, by such things as air, water and land pollution, chemical spills, fossil fuels, etc., all of which contribute to climate change. It seems to me that the piece, in fact, provides a rather apt description of the Fevered Earth.

Ann adds: There are a group of pieces submitted that use quotes—Bach, hymns, etc. I like that this selection adds to the variety of this group, both in terms of musical quotation, and in terms of style—it has an almost hypnotic minimalist approach.

Stephen F. Lilly, United States                                   

Vanishing (2020)

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), sea levels rose 3.4 inches between 1993 and 2019. This was due in no small part to an increase in meltwater from the planet’s glaciers and ice sheets as well as thermal expansion within the world’s warming oceans. As a result of this and an uptick in extreme weather events, 5 of the Solomon Islands, 8 Micronesian Islands, and 1 island each in the Hawaiian and Japanese Archipelagos have disappeared in recent years in the Pacific Ocean alone. To acknowledge the existential threat man-made climate change is to island civilizations worldwide, Vanishing recasts the piano as a soft, delicate world out of balance. The pianist navigates an archipelago (real or imagined) with islands represented by pitch-based sonorities and the sea represented by an exaggerated version of the mechanical noises made by the pedals, keys, and dampers. These are noises that typically only support the instrument’s sonic output, but here, they rise to encroach upon the land. 

Ann adds: I love, love, love the unusual and non-traditional score – it’s a literal map. Almost all musical decisions are up to the performer. It’s a very cool concept. 

Casey Mathur, United States                                      

Melting Snow

Melting Snow is a piece about the melting ice caps caused by global warming— how beautiful it may seem to watch, but what horrific consequences it will produce.

Ann adds: one of the things I like best about this work is the fixed electronics in the background of vinyl static. It’s quite a beautiful with flowing, tonal arpeggiation and the repeating harmonic progression, but the background noise is always there, a sinister backdrop that you are vaguely aware of.

Connor David McCain, United States                        

Lux æterna (2019)

Lux æterna originated out of an improvisation I played before my grandfather’s funeral in the fall of 2019. In my preparation for the service, I focused on the ability of music to speak to people in ways that words can’t, and so I challenged myself to simplify my language down to its bare bones, to take my background in chant and write a single line of music that reflected the eternal yearning of those Gregorian tunes while also speaking to the modern man. The title, then, comes not from any direct relation of the “Lux æterna” text from the Requiem Mass to the notes on the page, but rather as a more abstract inspiration, opening a window, however small, of that eternal light which tells of a world beyond. 

The title also references another inspiration for the piece: environmental healing. My grandfather was a petroleum engineer, and, while his research was well-revered in that community, it undoubtably perpetuated a cycle of exploiting natural resources. My desire in this work is not to apologize for his actions, but rather to pray for the light of truth to shine on the complex realities of our environment and our world. The Requiem Mass is nothing more than an organized prayer for healing, both for the dead and the living, both for mankind and for the earth. My Lux æterna draws life and energy from this same wellspring, speaking to those not in a church, but in a concert hall, mourning what has been lost, acknowledging the darkness in the world. But not remaining there. No: Praying, hoping for peace and light.

John McLachlan, Ireland                                            

fiailí ceoil (2019)

The title is Irish for musical weeds (pronounced ‘fyawly cyawl’). This is a nod to various early baroque collections with the title Fiori Musicali or ‘musical flowers,’ the most noted of which is the 1635 collection of keyboard (organ) pieces by Girolamo Frescobaldi. But the idea here is that in the modern era we find nature struggling through in wastelands, as we look to a future of more and more environmental degradation.

Just as weeds are often actually wildflowers which are as colourful and complex as cultivars, but more modest in scale, the music here may be thought of as almost representing the return of nature in a post-apocalyptic deserted landscape where various types of weed have broken through and taken over, with only their own wild natures to govern the overall arrangement.

Ann adds: This work is one of the longest of the series, and though it is in some ways very abstract, listen for the recurring musical motives.