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Mnemonic Suite Op21

Composer's note

Gravis In 5/4 time, with a questioning start, this Prelude reflects on the title’s implications of ‘serious, deep, heavy’. A close canon at half a note’s distance lends a
sense of weight to the texture, as it grows darker and winds down to its profound last chord.

Tristis In 3/4 time, this Aria has an improvisatory, melodic, heart-felt quality. A counter-melody weaves upwards during the central portion, before the music returns
to its initial simplicity.

Mysticus This Reflection in 11/8 time comprises whispy phrases and harmonies, reaching up ever higher. The pedal’s lowest note marks the pivotal point in this palindrome. The six Endings of Tone III appear together with their retrogrades, thus in the mirror image they are heard again. There is perhaps a hint of distant bells in this intangible music.

Harmonicus In 3/4 time, the quasi-serialist ground bass gradually emerges while harmonic minor scales pace up and down. After a while, Tone IV appears in canonic form. The registration and harmony combine to render this Passacaglia a very personal expression of anxiety.

Laetus This longest of the pieces is a joyous Toccata in 5/8 time, complete with brief middle section, recapitulation, and coda. With an almost minimalist quality, scintillating semiquavers outline a falling minor third, derived from the Endings of Tone V, while sonorous pedals thunder out the complete Tone.

Devotus In this hauntingly solemn Fugue in 3/4 time, much of the material is inverted in the second half. Tone VI appears as a tenor solo played by the pedals.

Angelicus The shortest piece of all, this delicate miniature Scherzo in 7/16 time returns to its first part after a middle section. The effervescent semiquavers may evoke an image of chasing tails or wings!

Perfectus Also in 7/16 time, this Finale bears some allegiance to late Widor. Motivic drive and thematic complexity imbue it with a sinuous energy. Perfect fourths and fifths are prominent, and bring the music to its conclusion.

Mediaeval monastic commentators assigned each note, or Tonus with a particular Latin name, characterizing their very different moods, appropriate to various styles and subjects in the Psalter.

This Suite was composed between July and November 2012, though parts of Perfectus had been gestating since 2011, and minor revisions continued till early 2013. The original aim was to create an Aide-mémoire for the eight Psalm Tones, as given in ‘Briggs and Frere’ 1902 edition. Each piece presents the entire Psalm Tone, with all its Endings: for example, only one Ending in Tone VI (Devotus) but nine in Tone IV (Harmonicus).

With an average duration of 2 minutes, and their degree of motivic interrelation, these pieces are performed ideally as an entire Suite (lasting approximately 18 minutes), but alternatively in groups, pairs, or even singly. They can all be played on an instrument of two manuals and pedals, and there is no necessity for registration changes within each piece.

Duration: about 18 minutes

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