A Magic Dwells

Priscilla McLean

About this work:
On a National Endowment for the Arts Composer Grant, “ A Magic Dwells” was composed from 1983, when special chords were recorded by the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra, to 1986, when the score was finished and hand-copied by the composer at The MacDowell Colony. From the orchestral-electronic texture emerges a magical sound: “voices” of the instruments “singing” ancient messages of creation. A sustained stringed chord on tape, mysterious in origin, evokes a sense of timelessness. The messages arise alone or are mixed with the busy, energetic “life” in the orchestra. The “voices” were created by blending instruments from the orchestra with actual sung voices (Trevor Wishart--English composer, Barton McLean, and Priscilla McLean) processed through the vocoder, an electronic sound-modifying instrument. As is in keeping with the mystery of Creation, the messages are very short phrases in various degrees of clarity, from Hebrew, Christian, Egyptian, Chinese, and American Wintu Indians, ending with a speech from Hermann Hesse: “A magic dwells at each beginning, and protecting us it tells us how to live.” (“Magister Ludi”). The orchestra uses many new performance techniques, indluding alternating meters and seconds, controlled improvisation, glissandi, and special string effects. The structure of the work involves progressive extension of the rhythmic and melodic ostinati in the orchestra (the “life”), reaching a climax when the tape proclaims “All colors of the world” and sustaining a solo orchestra section afterwards, gradually dying down as the last phrases are heard. Harmonically, the tape provides a dense chord against which the other sounds on tape and in the orchestra progress from simple to complex and back to simple chordal structures at the end. “A Magic Dwells” was premiered as the winning composition of the 17th Sigvald Thompson Composition Competition by the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony on January 24, 1988, Robert Hanson conducting.
Version: orchestra and tape
Year composed: 1986
Duration: 00:14:10
Ensemble type: Orchestra:Standard Orchestra
Instrumentation: 2 Flute, 2 Oboe, 2 Clarinet, 2 Horn in F, 2 Trumpet, 1 Bass Trombone, 1 Timpani, 1 Percussion (General), 1 Piano, 5 Strings (General), 2 Violin, 1 Viola, 1 Cello, 1 Double bass, 1 Prerecorded Sound (Tape/CD/Other)
Instrumentation notes: The music alternates time in meters and seconds (stopwatch).

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