Millennium

I based Millennium off of the work of Pérotin, one of the European composers of the Notre Dame School from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. I chose this style of polyphonic composition to work with because I am fascinated with the freedom Pérotin employs in his organa quadrupla (Viderunt Omnes and Sederunt Principes). Both of these major vocal compositions were written in celebration of Christmas Day as embellishments of Gregorian chants of the same name. They were the first in recorded history of their kind – music with four distinct voices in harmony. I found the fluidity of the music extremely satisfying; the voices cross over each other wherever Pérotin likes, weaving around in a tight formation like a flock of birds. When the voices brush up in close proximity, they generate gentle dissonances that satisfyingly resolve. Pérotin’s mastery of this freedom and breaking the boundary of adding multiple new voices in harmony earned him the title by his contemporaries “Magister Perotinus” or “Pérotin the Master.”

I chose to adapt the chant from Viderunt Omnes and Pérotin’s original material itself in the composition. The solo bass trombone begins in measure 5 with a motif based off of the opening of Viderunt Omnes. This motif persists throughout the entire composition, distinguished by an alteration of the 6th scale degree to add tension and color. I also include a quote of Pérotin’s embellishment of Sederunt Principes in measure 71, but I altered the rhythms to obscure the homorhythm of the original. I wrote this piece for trombone choir because I wanted to both continue Pérotin’s tradition of adding to Viderunt Omnes by adding more voices but also depart from Pérotin’s tradition by writing for instruments instead of vocalists. I also am heavily influenced by the harmonic language of twentieth and twenty-first centuries in jazz and classical styles, so I incorporated these techniques into my composition as another departure from the ars antiqua style of Pérotin’s.

I referred to the recordings of Viderunt Omnes and Sederunt Principes by the Hilliard Ensemble and Tonus Peregrinus, respectively. These recordings informed my composition because they inspired me to match the nuance in style in the ensembles’ interpretations. For example, the introduction to Millennium mirrors the “lightly separated” style of Viderunt Omnes as performed by the Hilliard Ensemble.

One of the hardest challenges for writing “Millennium” was avoiding any accidental harmonic clichés that would orient the work in a certain time period. Pulitzer-prize winning composer Paul Moravec, who visited UT this past month, gave me this advice during his composition masterclass. He noted that at rehearsal letter E, I used chord progressions that brought up sounds of Broadway-style jazz – an unintended reference inconsistent with the rest of the piece. While I wanted my composition to reflect my personal brand of harmonic language, heavily influenced by jazz, I did not want to make any progressions that could sound like an anachronistic mistake. So, I changed the harmonic language in this passage by obscuring tonality, focusing on chromatic non-tonal voice-leading. This technique removed any resemblance to the ii-V-I progressions I used in the previous version. Also, breaking away from tonality in this section made the return to stable E-flat at rehearsal letter F more satisfying.

The most interesting part of writing this composition was preserving the unity of the work. I wanted every part to relate back to either the Gregorian chants themselves or the work of Pérotin. The most prominent motif, discussed above, is an elaboration of the E-flat major triad. The overall structure of the composition outlines this triad with large sections in E-flat major, G minor, and B-flat minor.

I chose the name “Millennium” because the Gregorian chants Pérotin based his works off of are considered to be at least a thousand years old. My goal is to propel this music to the best of my abilities a thousand years into the future. I also chose the name “Millennium” because the piece reminds me a bit of the soundtrack to Star Wars, a nod to the Millennium Falcon.

I chose to dedicate this piece to one of the first friends I made at UT, Bailey Sikorski. He recently lost a battle with a rare form of leukemia at the age of 21. Bailey had a passion for space and the future, and, being the incredibly driven student and role model he was for me, was already working with aerospace engineers at Lockheed Martin to design technology to go to Mars. Hopefully, with the help of this piece, Bailey can still get there. Rest in peace, Bailey.