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Philip Glass

Publisher: Chester Music

Symphony No. 7 'A Toltec Symphony' (2004)
Commissioned by National Symphony Orchestra celebrating the 60th birthday of Leonard Slatkin.
Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
30 Minutes
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Programme Note
Philip Glass Symphony No. 7 'A Toltec Symphony' (2004)
Mvmt. I - The Corn
Mvmt. II - The Hikuri (the Sacred Root)
Mvmt. II - The Blue Deer

The word "Toltec" in the title of the Symphony No. 7 refers to the tradition and beliefs which were the cultural and spiritual matrix of Mesoamerica and which began many centuries before the European invasion. Mesoamerica is now believed to have extended from central Mexico to the north as far as New Mexico and Texas in the United States and to the south to include Guatemala and Nicaragua. Though its roots began, according to recent research, some five thousand years ago among the Olmec, and achieved its peak in the times of Teotihuacan (500 BC to 500 AD), the traditional belief was that the Toltec culture reached its height in the city of Tula and dominated that part of the world from 700 to 1100 A.D. The Post-Classic Mayan and Aztec periods that followed maintained the Toltec accomplishments in mathematics, precision in making calendars, building and architecture.

Equally important were the Toltec developments in social organization and personal spiritual development. Like many indigenous traditions, the Toltecs emphasized the relationship with the forces of the natural world (the sun, earth, water, fire and wind) in developing their own wisdom traditions. These kinds of practices can still be found among some of the indigenous peoples of Mexico today, e.g. the Wirrarika from North Mexico.

This Symphony is inspired by the Wirrarika sacred trinity: The Corn, The Hikuri (The Sacred Root), and The Blue Deer.

The Corn represents a direct link between Mother Earth and the well being of human beings. But it also represents the responsibility of the people to nurture the gifts of Mother Earth-the corn which will sustain them.

The Sacred Root is found in the high deserts of North and Central Mexico and is understood to be the doorway to the world of the Spirit.

The Blue Deer is considered the holder of the Book of Knowledge. Any man or woman who aspires to be a "Person of Knowledge" will, through arduous training and effort, have to encounter the Blue Deer. The Blue Deer might be seen as a literal blue deer or something more abstract-for example, a vision, a voice that one might hear or a thought uninvited but present in the mind of the practitioner.

When I was invited to compose a work for Leonard Slatkin's birthday season, I discussed with him the possibility of a symphony based on the Toltec wisdom tradition. As a man who has single-mindedly devoted himself to becoming a Man of (Musical) Knowledge I thought he would be intrigued by the Toltec point of view. He accepted my suggestion with enthusiasm and this is the result.

Finally, I would like to thank Victor Sanchez who, through his books, teaching and his fieldwork, has made a lifetime effort to preserve and clarify the Toltec tradition for people today. He has kindly and patiently 'opened the door' to this tradition for me.

Philip Glass, November 2004

Preview the score:

The name of Philip Glass has a pull that's inexplicable to me, and thousands gathered-most of them young-to hear the British premier of the veteran minimalist's Symphony No 7. Apparently inspired by the ancient Toltec "wisdom tradition" of Mexico, it manages to be predictable and baffling at the same time...In the last movement Glass adds something new. Silence! Cage-like chunks of it punctuate the music like enigmatic chasms.
Richard Morrison, The Times,14/08/2009
Next up, huis rousing Toltec Symphony, inspired by Mesoamerican cultures such as the Aztecs and the Mayans. The piece is hugely evocative, and its second and third movements were the most spectacular of the night as the choir chanted lyrics Glass transcribed from an old man he recorded singing in the Mexican mountains. Though his may be best known for his film scores, last night's Prom was proof that Glass can create rich visual ideas with music, without the need for a moving image. And with the rapturous applause he got, you would have thought, as two grumpy old men behind me said, "he was a bloody pop star."
Guy Ivision, The London Paper,13/08/2009
The huge audience that attended last night's late, late Philip Glass Prom made the crowd at last week's celebration of Harrison's Birtwistle's 75th birthday seem desultory...Glass pulls in the crowds for a reason...Even in his more workaday film scores, Glass' muusic retains a deep sense of drama and, occasionally, it alleges a captivating enigma. His Violin Concerto is testament to that...The work iterates all of the composer's stylistic crutches, from chugging chords and repeating scales over ostinatos to brashly-framed four-chord brass sequences to swinging rythmic clashes and sudden shifts in time and texture, in quite a brazen way. Yet the design - three movements in the traditional pattern - works well, particularly with the stirring slow movement at the center. The design and inner details of the piece conjure some muddled sense of an elided modern-classicist folly.... Glass' Symphony No. 7, subtitled 'A Toltec Symphony', presented a markedly different side of the composer. Based around a (very) loosely programmatic notion of the trinity at the centre of the pre-Mayan Toltec culture's spiritual practices, the work is comprised of three movements, each named for one part of that trinity...The second movement has real flair; it expands upon and adds to the frolicking but evocative material of the first through chanting wordless voices, driving and dancing rythmns and welcome chromatic colourings from the orchestra. The finale is more adventurous still. Glass uses an unusual syntax where panels of music, each cumulatively building in wight and size, are framed by very loud silences....The symphony is an impressive work and it was delivered with real panache this evening.
Stephen Graham,,13/08/2009
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