From an article
Composer Note Premiere:
If I were to have an epigram for the score, it would be the phrase that comes from one of the Gospels (and Stravinsky used in Persephone): “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” This is the essence of the spirit of the world (“anima mundi”). Things die to regenerate; things surrender in order to become fuller; life gives itself up in order to become new again in a fuller, richer way. As I was writing the piece, this for me was the essence of its dramatic trajectory.
Of course, this is an archetypal theme, with many manifestations. What form it will take in dance, I can’t say. That’s up to Kent and how the music reveals itself to him.
The score is in four movements. The first consists of an introduction, followed by a series of dances based on a series of rhythmic accents. Even in the first, very joyous, highly brilliant sounding music, you hear a dark element beneath the surface. The second movement is for the most part like a gentle waltz, leading to a very fierce climactic buildup. The third movement is a kind of descent into dark things. I see this almost as a kind of “dance macabre,” but with a tinge of humor. It’s the fastest movement in the piece. The whole thing goes whipping by. The last movement is almost like a hymn. It’s very andante-ish in feeling.
As I was finishing the last movement, I kept hearing the last line of the last canto of The Divine Comedy - “and the love that moves the sun and the starts.” It’s almost the feeling of the planets continuing to rotate.
Very often, as I write, I’m accompanied by image – sometimes ones with clear associations, sometimes very kooky things that don’t seem to have anything to do with what I’m writing. It’s not that I expect to see these on stage, but they do appear in my mind as I’m composing.
This is the second work I’ve done for dance. The first was in 1990, a piece for brass quintet. I learned so much from that first experience – especially how important is the force of forward movement and self-propelling energy in a piece of music. In symphonic music, say the music of Sibelius or Mahler, or even Copland, there are so many parenthetical statements that really don’t have anything to do with the energy that’s required for dance. When I heard Anima Mundia played by the orchestra for the first time, I immediately made three cuts. Kent and I agreed immediately about them.
I’ve worked very hard to make every piece of the score completely clear – that is, you can hear everything going on it – but it is definitely many-layered. For example, there’s a lot of overlapping rhythmically. The allegro section of the first movement, the place where the dance actually begins, opens with two simultaneous pulses – one basically in three, the other in four. There’s also a section in the first movement where you hear five against four.
The score (although it is very American) also reflects the music of so many parts of the world. It is, after all, “the spirit of the world.” I recall a conversation I had with Toru Takemitsu, the Japanes composer, about the difference between Western and Eastern music. In music of the West, he said, composers and artists try to conquer nature, while in the East, they try to blend with nature and become part of it. Thinking about that distinction, I realized that what been going on in my music over the last few years was an amalgamation of the two perspectives. In Anima Mundi, for example, there are a number of translucent effects that may evoke something of the East – particularly in the introduction of the first movement, in places throughout the second movement, and, definitely, within the last movement, especially in the last couple pages of the score.
One of the major challenges of staging this work, I believe, is that, while is obviously a classical, symphonic piece, its raw material is not simply classical.
When Kent and I first began talking about a collaboration, I had the feeling (although he never specifically said this) that in his wanting a new work, the operative word was “new.” It’s a very courageous thing to embark on something that challenges one to discover new relationships. Kent is as aware as anyone in dance in this country about the need for taking risks and not repeating oneself. I’ve really valued his – and PNB’s – integrity and openness throughout our work together. It’s been an exciting and enriching project to be involved in.