Chanting the Light of Foresight (1987), Terry Riley

All Repertoire

Chanting the Light of Foresight (1987), Terry Riley
Year of Composition: 1987    
The Tuning Path - The Pipes of Medb
Song Announcing Dawn's Combat
Chanting the Light of Foresight
Ferdia's Death Chant

Composer Biography

1935 —

Born in 1935 in Northern California, TERRY RILEY launched what is now known as the Minimalist movement with his revolutionary classic In C in 1964. This seminal work provided the conception for a form comprised of interlocking repetitive patterns that was to change the course of 20th century music. In the 1960's and 1970's he turned his attention to solo works for electronic keyboards and soprano saxophone, and pioneered the use of various kinds of tape delay in live performance. These hypnotic, multi-layered, polymetric, brightly-orchestrated, eastern-flavored improvisations set the stage for the New Age movement that was to appear a decade or so later. Riley's solo keyboard and piano concerts have become legendary due to his unique blending of eastern and western styles and the unusual all-night solo concerts he gave in the 1960's. He was listed in the London Sunday Times as one of the 1000 Makers of the 20th Century.

Composition Notes

The Cattle Raid of Cooley is a central part of the eighth-century Ulster cycle of heroic tales and is Ireland's nearest approach to a great epic. It tells the story of a giant cattle-raid, the invasion of Ulster by the armies of Medb and Ailill, queen and king of Connacht, and their allies, seeking to carry off the great Brown Bull of Cuailnge (Cooley). Chanting the Light of Foresight is based on this legend and was written in 1987 for the Rova saxophone quartet.

"The Tuning Path and The Pipes of Medb represent the deep night on the fields where the armies of Queen Medb are gathered, where the only sound is the wind blowing through giant organ-like pipes to signal time's static passage. The opening ends with Medb's Blues, which is in the form of a six-bar 10/4 blues tune."

"Song Announcing Dawn's Combat" concerns the story's main adversaries, Cuchulainn and Ferdia, who are foster brothers. The intricate 7/8 rhythms and pulsing drones within hindustani scales tip my intention to link this Irish epic with that of its more famous brother, the Bhagavad Gita, a similar tale of war and moral duty. In a moving plea, Cuchulainn tries to convince Ferdia that he has been tricked by Medb into fighting him and that it is certain he will be killed. Ferdia ignores the warning. The hand to hand battle lasts several days with both warriors retiring each night to lick their wounds before resuming the next dawn's battle. Cuchulainn, after many days of fighting with various weapons, finally slays Ferdia with his secret weapon, the gae bolga."

"The gift of prophecy is enacted as the Light of Foresight in a scene where the hero Cuchulainn has completed his warrior and shamanistic training under his guru, Scathach. She chants to him his future through the light of foresight. The chant is composed in sets of repeating phrases that couple 8/8 and 7/8 measures that undergo continual variation towards more impassioned and frantic statements before ending much as it begins."

"Ferdia's Death Chant is the lament of Cúchulainn as he removes the gae bolga from Ferdia's lifeless body. It is performed in the same tuning as the Pipes of Medb and is in simple four-part chorale form." -Terry Riley