O Great Mystery
performed by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra
The opener to their Dare to Embrace the World concert, which was the first concert of the season. Winner of the 2014 Kluge Composers Competition.
September 27, 2014
Most of my music can be broken down to one essential question, Where is this God? O Great Mystery marks the start of this musical quest. When I wrote the beginning, I imagined a line of monks chanting in an ancient, grand cathedral. It’s beautiful and mystic but has a sense of darkness inside. The theme of this introduction goes back to when I was in choir in high school, and my teacher handed out a piece she was considering for us to do, and then played us a recording. The piece was “O Magnum Mysterium” by Tomas Luis de Victoria. I quoted the first two lines of the piece and included a translation from its original Latin.
O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum
O Great Mystery, and wonderful Sacrament
The piece has a beautiful mysticism to it, and the color of the words themselves, even without the music, gives off the perfect sense of mystery and wonder yet it has a slightly ominous quality to it. What is this great mystery? It’s beautiful yet ambiguous.
While this piece is not programmatic, nor is it sacred, I believe this metaphor will help make this piece as understandable as possible. By this point, one of our monks decided he would leave the comfort of his church. He went out of the dark enclosed church and entered a strange world. Our monk here never really questioned anything he’s been told, and sort of followed what he was told almost blindly. Now he realizes that outside of home, he’s free. He lifts the rusty cage from his heart and lets it roam. This middle section, to give it a broader sense is about liberalism. It’s about leaving your mind and letting your heart roam free. But, absolute freedom can be overwhelming, and our hearts are wild. It’s almost too much, to be out into a free world and eventually, the freedom turns into fear, and you wish you were caged again.
Here is where our monk returns to his church, but like Plato’s philosopher coming back to his cave, he cannot help but feel the emptiness in the prayers of that church. So he fills it, he realizes that his heart and his mind don’t need to be separate and neither the old and the new, rather, they should both be embraced, and only then can there be passion, foundation, and unity.
It should be noted that I don’t write for myself, nor do I believe my music comes from me, therefore, please do not treat this analysis as an extension of the work, but rather a way of seeing it from someone who loves this religious mystery, but is indeed separated from it. Therefore your view of O Great Mystery is no less important than mine, nor does it need to be similar.
O Great Mystery is a journey, I wrote it when I first started to hear the world I was witnessing, and I hope you enjoy my sharing of this mysterious voyage with you.