Mandala 3

for flute, clarinet, viola, cello, solo piano, and Chinese gong.

In 1975, I composed the solo piano piece, Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh’, a meditation on the final chorus from the St. Matthew Passion. When Gemini asked me to compose a work for them in 1978, I returned to this work and wove it into a more extended structure which further explored the harmony of Bach’s chorus in terms of style and layers of textures.

The work is in three parts, the first being a transcription of the original chorus in the style of a classical quintet. The recapitulation of the opening is interrupted by the second part, the sonata, a classically shaped binary form, which makes many passing references to other music in the context of the Bach chorus.

The sonata dissolves into the opening of the piano piece, Ruhe sanfte, which is now the foreground of an extended fantasia. The other instruments create an enfolding resonance around the piano, leading eventually to the recapitulation of the Bach chorus, floating serenely above the climax of the piano music.

This description of the work is a little too clean cut for such a very odd piece. The clear edges of the music in the chorale and sonata are an essential foil to the ambiguity and open-endedness of the fantasia. It is insufficient to say that the centre of this mandala is the Bach chorale. What was the centre of that music? As soon as one resonance opens up, it merely opens up another. Is it a meditation on the act of listening itself? I can’t speak dispassionately about this music. It came from nowhere, and it continues to take me everywhere.

DL, 1985.