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Nico Muhly

Publisher: Chester Music

Luminous Body (2011)
Commissioned by St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Cantus
Work Notes
Percussion (1 player) includes: Crotales (bow), Glockenspiel, Wood Block, Gong, Beads in Mixing Bowl
Text Writer
Craig Lucas
St. Rose Music Publishing
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
26 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
5 Tenors, 2 Baritones, 2 Basses
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Programme Note
Nico Muhly Luminous Body (2011)
Luminous Body is a collaboration between Craig Lucas and me, written in the period immediately following our narratively- charged opera, Two Boys. Luminous Body is, as a result, abstract and poetic in gesture and form. The text interpolates, among other things, stylized versions of the teachings of Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, and Plato. These are scrambled, re-contextualized and, in a sense, serve as background for the textures of the combination of nine male voices and orchestra.

Part 1 introduces the chord structure that governs the entire piece and ends with the repeated words, “only your will is your own.” The second and third parts, loosely dealing with the devil and the importance of choosing one’s words, are based on drones generated by the voices and the strings. The constant (but slightly morphing) texture is meant to be meditative and vague. I have always wanted to set the Beatitudes, and Craig has paraphrased them beautifully here; the tenors intone the word “blessed” over and over while the strings and winds reiterate the passacaglia from the opening of the piece. The fifth and final part is a series of proverbs. The orchestra begins in a series of loose, ecstatic drones that increase in intensity (“Make your own family!”) until we jump suddenly to the garden of Gethsemane, where Christ was betrayed while his disciples slept. “Why are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake for one more hour?” he asks, while the strings and winds lazily chant in the background.

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