small ensemble (8)

Premiere: February 21, 2021, Montréal / Nouvelles Musiques 2021: Lachrimæ, Montréal (Québec)

For a long time in European thought and education, music was coupled with the disciplines of arithmetic, geometry, and interestingly enough, astrology. This pairing may seem strange now, but it does give a clue in understanding the ethos of renaissance polyphony. When listening to this music, we admire how each voice, like celestial bodies, has its gravitational pull and orbit.

The evening begins and ends with star phenomena. A Nova is when a star increases in luminosity and becomes very visible in the sky, and a supernova (first discovered by Tycho Brahe) describes the explosion of a star.

Surrounding Dowland’s Pavans are six ephemerides, short compositions loosely inspired by Kepler’s (Brahe’s assistant) theories and observations set out in Harmonices Mundi (1619). Each ephemeris presents a trajectory or set of trajectories through which different material unfolds, sometimes in the form of looping canons or stretti, harmonic or rhythmic periods mimicking a system of bodies in orbit, or a slow unwinding of tempo based on increasingly remote orbital velocities.

The temperament for the work was also inspired by the Renaissance: a double system of quarter-comma meantone sometimes imposed with a 31-tone equal temperament creates in some passages the impression of chords becoming fluid and passing through many different vibrational planes.

Thierry Tidrow and Trevor Grahl [xi-21]


  • [Image: Mélanie Ouellette]
    Sunday, February 21 – Sunday, August 15, 2021