The Waking Sun, 6. While on such beauty the lover gazes

6. While on such beauty the lover gazes
While on such beauty the lover gazes, her cheeks suddenly glow with rosy blush. Snowy wool turns crimson thus when bathed in purple flood; so gleams the waking sun when the shepherd, wet with the dew of the dawn of the day, considers it. —Medea 

The Waking Sun centers on D, the individual sections being in these modes: 1. B minor — 2. D Dorian — 3. D minor — 4. A Mixolydian — 5. B minor — 6. D Lydian. I’ve never bothered so much with key relationships, but look for modal color appropriate to the purpose at hand. The old church modes usually provide enough variety and stability to please me, so these are what I use in most of my music.

While the text of “A king is he” would make a fine summation, it started to ring hollow as the ending for this work, especially as it appealed so un-stoically to my own ego. “While on such beauty” argues for the other side of desire, not for the elimination of it.

But what really convinced me was recently seeing a performance of the final duet of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea. Soft and haunting, “Pur ti miro” (I gaze at you, I possess you) is utterly mesmerizing with its simple four-note ground bass and sweet, biting counterpoint. It is even more remarkable as the ending of an entire opera. That Seneca plays such an important role in Poppea was another connection.

All the instruments but the theorbo are silent for the finale of The Waking Sun, so when the theorbo drops out, the choir is unaccompanied for about the last five minutes of the piece. The ostinato continues in a bass voice, and the choir eventually divides into twelve parts. Each voice repeats its own short phrase, leaves, then re-enters, repeating the words of the title.

18 Jun 2011. The Waking Sun. The Crossing, Tempesta di Mare. Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, 8 pm

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