The Crucifixion – Simon Meikle

Odilon Redon – The Crucifixion

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I chose to base my piece on Redon’s ‘The Crucifixion’ after becoming intrigued with the atypical presentation of Christ on the cross. Redon illustrated the religious story in a vivid and human manner, stripping away the supernatural elements and leaving the audience with a depiction of  Christ at his most vulnerable, at his most human.

Programme Notes:

Deriving a narrative from Redon’s work, this piece attempts to aurally represent Christ’s last minutes on the cross. Using recordings of percussion and Gregorian chant I have constructed a piece which develops motivic material over time through editing, layering recordings over one another, becoming rhythmically and sonically denser in order to reach a deafening climax. This signifies Christ’s death in an aural fashion which attempts to capture the horrific and gruesome nature of crucifixion. In the aftermath the chant can once again be heard, representing St John and the Virgin Mary mourning after Christ’s torturous passing.

On the compositional process:

After first viewing Redon’s Crucifixion I decided that I wanted to present a narrative journey, namely the last few minutes of Christ’s life on the cross. With this in mind I decided that I would construct a growing texture, which gradually became sonically and rhythmically dense, leading to a deafening and aesthetically grim climax which would be followed by a calmer quieter section. I was overtly aware of the fact that the crucifix is considered by many as a religious symbol of sacrifice and the more gruesome elements of the execution method are often forgotten and rarely referenced. In line with J.K.Huysmans comments on Matthias Grünewald’s depiction of the Crucifixion (of which Redon took great inspiration from), I wanted to depict the Christ of the people, the most human depiction. I wanted to depict the horrific torture of being crucified and as such searched for a sound that would represent that.

To begin with, I recorded various different percussion instruments, including tubular bells, a bass drum, bowed cymbals, timpani, a ratchet and the campus clock tower. I refrained from greater use of sounds from outside the percussive family to create a sense of sonic consistency; the only other sounds outside of this family are the vocal recordings.

When looking at the artwork I found four features that I wanted to focus on representing aurally: the Virgin Mary and St John, the bending crucifix, the vivid reds and oranges found in the background and the concept of death. This programmatic approach was initially difficult to adapt to being that I’d never composed in such a fashion and so I took a lot of time editing the recordings to achieve the sound I wanted (especially with elements such as the ratchet representing the sound of wood breaking). In general when I compose I am not concerned with musically representing any concepts or ideas in an overt way. Thankfully, this approach of a programmatic narrative journey provided a simple structure to follow and so I had the overarching temporal elements in place fairly early and once I had the edited sounds I desired, the rest of the construction consisted of taking motivic elements and making sure they were presented correctly and used correctly throughout the piece. As an example, initially I had the tubular bells playing ‘Dies Irae’ just in the beginning of the piece. Adding the notes of the chant in tandem with the strikes of the clock tower in the second section allowed me to gradually distort the idea presented within the first minute of the piece and then reintroduce it once more later before distorting it again. I also used this method with the ratchet recordings and as such used a retrospective form of composition, creating dense textures and ideas initially before stripping way the excess layers and using the reduced textures to build towards a larger texture, creating a sense of journey, tension and release.

You can listen to the piece below

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