Between sea and sky
THREE BYZANTINE HYMNS
BY Nick Pitts-Tucker and Solfa Carlile
Based on a poem by Paul the Silentiary (sixth centurd AD)
Greek Orthodox church music was the inspiration for ‘Hagia Sophia’, with the sustained bass pedal notes and lightly ornamented melodic lines. The theme of light is central to the description of the cathedral in the text, and the ethereal nature of the childrens’ choir lends itself well to this. Musically, there are allusions to the Greek Orthodox tradition, with an added dense, rapidly-changing harmonic texture. There are intermittent bursts of dramatic, full harmony at climactic points in the text, and the piece ends with all voices in unison to create a feeling of resolution and calm.
Between Sea and Sky
Based on a poem by Cyrus of Panopolis (fifth century AD)
This little poem in celebration of a stylite less famous than Simeon is as polished as a pebble. Fascinated by the hermit tradition of the East, the Irish in the Far West took and made it their own. Skellig Michael, located about seven miles off the coast of southwest Ireland, is the most famous of Irish hermit islands. It sits in the sea like a pillar in the desert, and on it stood Michael the Hermit, disciple of the great Saint Finnian. The three lapidary stanzas of the poem take us from Syria to the Skellig in simple symmetry. ‘Between Sea and Sky’ is scored for a tenor soloist, accompanied by a choir which provides an atmospheric background, evoking the beauty and mystery of the island. There is also a solo violin, which is folk-like and influenced by the ornamentation in Irish traditional music.
The Winter Storm
Based on a poem by Gregory of Nazianzus (fourth century AD)
‘The Winter Storm’ is a musical saga based on the voyage of St Gregory from Alexandria to Athens, where the crew encountered a storm that raged for 20 days. There are three distinct elements in the text which I have interpreted musically. The first is Gregory’s narration of the event, depicted by an overarching melody which is passed between soloists, and is the heart of the piece. Secondly, a sea shanty, sung first by the sailors as they prepare the ship for voyage, which blends into the narrative and transitions into the chaos of the storm. The third is the Greek refrain ‘O Phos Hilaron’, which becomes more urgent with each iteration, to represent Gregory’s unwavering faith and persistent prayer.
Nick Pitts-Tucker and Solfa Carlile 2017