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a new work for piano by Larry Sitsky


While the vast bulk of modern culture continues to strip-mine the fields of sexuality and gratuitous titillation for its motivation, Larry Sitsky, Australia's great composer, pianist and scholar turns instead (and again) to the deepest intellectual, cultural and spiritual heritage of human kind for his inspiration.

In Dimensions of Night, a major new work for piano completed only a few months ago, Larry Sitsky draws on ancient legend, myth and spiritual history to invoke his music. The ten movements of this forty-five minute work range in source from ancient Egypt, to the Navaho and Aztec cultures. Michael Kieran Harvey, the pianist who commissioned the work and who will perform it in Hobart, Tasmania on Friday 3 October 2008 (6pm at the Conservatorium Recital Hall, 5 Sandy Bay Road), suggests that this 'mystery odyssey' draws attention to the ancient ideas upon which modern religions are based. After each of the titles for the ten movements are Harvey's comments and elucidations:

Dimensions of Night
Composer's preface to the score:
'There are ... gates that can only be opened by music' -- The Zohar
'For MIKHA-EL, one of the good guys'

  1. 'Chant of Gatha Ushtavaiti'
    Zoroastrianism -- (pointing towards Zoroaster's similarity to the Christ myth).
  2. 'Ra Sails the Mesektet Barque'
    Ra, the original sungod, all-powerful Egyptian deity who rides the barge through the underworld every night.
  3. 'Thoh'
    The Maya god whose signature is five and who demands human sacrifice.
  4. 'Mara'
    Mara, the Norse Ondine, the eternal succubus, origin of the word 'nightmare' who rides us into chaotic horror.
  5. 'Sitra Achra'
    The 'other side' or realm of impurity.
  6. 'Eros'
    The God of Love.
  7. 'Chant Ceremony of the Yei Gods'
    The Navajo gods, of whom Yeibichai is invoked in the Night Chant ceremony.
  8. 'Lord of the Smoking Mirror'
    Tezcatlipoca, head of the Aztec religion modelled after the translucent glass obsidian.
  9. 'The Chaos of Aesiod'
    Hesiod's 'Works and Days', a sort of Kali Yuga and 'Theogeny' or 'Götterdämmerung', which were mercilessly plundered by monotheist scribes after 800 BCE to evoke the concept of a 'Golden Age' from which the corrupt present has fallen.
  10. 'Devekut'
    The cleaving to God of the Hasidic Jews, with the 'tsaddig', a shaman figure, absorbing all the evil of his community, thereby cleansing it.

Larry Sitsky, one of Australia's foremost composers, has often drawn on such ideas in the past: the concerto for piano and orchestra entitled The 22 Paths of the Tarot, The Five Elements (a sonata for solo guitar), Tetragrammaton for violin and piano, The Three Names of Shiva for solo mandolin, and Ten Sephirot of the Kabbalah for SATB choir and three percussionists. There are numerous other examples among Sitsky's very extensive musical output.

Larry Sitsky is very open and clear about his views on music. In a fascinating book The Esoteric Musical Tradition of Ferruccio Busoni and Its Reinvigoration in the Music of Larry Sitsky by Judith Crispin, we read from an interview with Sitsky:

I think [music] reaches into that part of us, of the human spirit, that cannot be put in words ... and I would think that the reason for composing music is to reach out towards that. Without it -- what is the function of music? Is it just to amuse us? Or to cover up the silence?
... And reaching out towards the infinite, however you want to define what that might mean -- in other words it could be a religiously based concept or simply a mystically based concept. Without that aspect, I don't see the point of it. The music that interests me has that as its base -- Spirituality, if you think of it that way, or, at the very least, a purpose involved in ritual or something like that ... So, the purpose, one way or another, is to elevate the human spirit. To give it a glimpse of something unknown, something awfully better than what we have here.

Dimensions of Night will be given its world première performance by the exuberant and brilliant pianist Michael Kieran Harvey. Along with commissioning the work, Harvey has also prepared an edition of the massive score. Sitsky recalls the genesis of the work:

'After Michael Kieran Harvey premièred my Symphony for Piano and Orchestra, we discussed my writing a new work especially for Michael. Jokingly, and keeping in mind Michael's special brand of fiery virtuosity, I suggested composing a book of quiet, reflective Nocturnes. Michael, however, took the light-hearted suggestion seriously, and pointed out to me that 'nocturnes' were simply 'night pieces'. From that remark came the notion of a huge cycle of ten pieces, which could be performed separately, but were also part of a linked series of pieces, with cross-references and thematic connections. The title [of the work] comes from Gwen Harwood's wonderful libretto for my first opera The Fall of the House of Usher.'

Anyone in the vicinity should attend this concert. Those of us far away can only lament the distance that separates us from a very important musical event.

Copyright © 1 October 2008 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada



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