Nigredo is the first plateau of achievement in the alchemical process or “magnum opus”, by which the alchemist seeks to transmute the ordinary – that is, to turn base matter such as lead, earth or stone into gold. I see the process behind alchemy as being a metaphor for a kind of spiritual journey towards enlightenment - the alchemist perfects nature and himself at the same time. During this process, an egg is placed in the athanor furnace, where a symbolic sexual union occurs; the hot, solar male and cold, lunar female interact. This event is filled with pain, rage, killing and putrefaction: matter is destroyed; opposites dissolve into the black, liquid nigredo. This “black of blacks” phase (the first sure sign that one is on the right path) ends with the appearance, on the surface, of a starry aspect.
On the day Rolf Hind asked me to write this piano piece, I discovered the painting “Nigredo” by the German artist, Anselm Kiefer, in which a landscape is turned inside out and, having made it “suffer” in this way, Kiefer has attempted to symbolically restore the earth’s vital functions.
This single movement piece is dedicated to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies at 60. Nigredo is approximately 16 minutes long.
© Simon Holt