Cantus Planus | Incantatio et Psalmus | Canticulum (2021)
The title – Susurrus (Lat.: susurrare), meaning a whispering, murmuring, or rustling sound – depicts the gentleness and humbleness of the compositional materials used to establish the three movements of this piece.
The first sketches were created without any specific instrumentation in mind. I started on the piano and wrote in polyphony (single voicing and multi-voicing techniques). The melody is meant to flow and intertwine with other voices, horizontally, not vertically.
I was largely inspired by my study of chants, psalms and Gregorian hymns. The purity, modesty, asceticism, and minimalism conveyed were a complete detachment from contemporary music. The greatest attention was given to the smallest change of interval, and there was a complexity within its simplicity that fascinated me.
It was, however, not my intention to copy the past. I wanted only to draw on the consolidation of the atmosphere, asceticism and extremely careful consonance of successive intervals, single voices and their layering. Furthermore, I did not wish to use any original chants, psalms or hymns. Instead, I wanted to create every interval, every melody, and every co-interaction from scratch.
Cantus Planus (plainchant) is a body of chants used in the liturgies of the Western Church. When referring to the term plainsong, it is those sacred pieces that are composed in Latin text. Plainsong was the exclusive form of Christian church music until the ninth century, and the introduction of polyphony.
The monophonic chants of plainsong have a non-metric rhythm. Their rhythms are generally freer than the metered rhythm of later Western music, and they are sung without musical accompaniment (pure monody vs multi-layered monody). This inspired my decision to organize the time using an uneven but organic time signature.
I incorporated the essence of purity and asceticism through a very conscious choice of scales. The Chant in this movement is built on the aeolian pentatonic scale (A C D E F), which is a natural minor scale consisting only of 5 pure natural notes.
Incantatio et Psalmus
Incantatio et Psalmus is the supine form of incantō (“sing, recite, enchant”) integrated with psalm (a sacred song; a poetical composition for use in the praise or worship of God). Continuing with the depiction of purity, the second movement is built on the aeolian mode in its entirety.
Canticulum (song or incantation) is a hymn, psalm or other Christian song of praise with lyrics taken from biblical or holy texts other than the Psalms.
The third movement breaks free from the dominance of one (Aeolian) scale. The main theme of Canticulum appears not only in different tonal forms in the same key, but modulates through a variety of different keys and tonics. The form of polyphony is mainly shaped by a dependence on the interval of a 3rd.
The number 3 is of particular importance in Susurrus. It is one of the most important numbers in the Bible. It represents harmony, The Holy Trinity and God’s presence. In Susurrus, the number 3 is represented not only in the number of movements, but also in the interval of thirds, which shapes the monodic but also polyphonic compositional narrative of the whole three movements.
Susurrus can be orchestrated and adapted for many smaller or larger chamber ensembles. This is one possible version of the piece.
As its very first version, the combination of 2 instruments born more than 200 years apart (classical guitar and 13-course baroque lute) seemed extremely appropriate to the genesis of Susurrus.
I hope Susurrus will find many performances in new and unusual pairs of instruments or larger ensembles (across contemporary as well as historical instruments).
Marek PASIECZNY (17th of July, 2021)