Lux in Tenebris for Orchestra (2017)

Instrumentation: 3(III=picc).3.3.3(III=cbsn) – 4. 3. 2+bass. 1 - timp. perc(3) - pno. hrp - strings

Duration: 10’30’’

Full score (printed on 13x26) and study score (printed on 13x19) are available upon request. 

Carlos received the Underwood Commission to write a new work for the American Composers Orchestra after Lux in Tenebris was performed by the ACO at the 2018 Underwood New Music Readings. Click here to listen to the new piece, Materia Prima. 

Program Notes:
Lux in Tenebris was the first piece I began as a Masters student at The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, and it took me nearly two years (almost the entire duration of my studies at Peabody) to complete. Through countless revisions, it became a culmination of my interests, a piece that melds disparate music of the past for which I still feel ever-growing reverence.

Upon first hearing the music of Anton Bruckner, I felt deeply connected to the composer and his work. His Eighth Symphony in particular, with its immense harmonic landscapes, devastating silences, and profound “darkness-to-light” narrative, continues to be one of my greatest influences – no doubt, in more ways than I am even aware of. Lux in Tenebris explores these elements of the Eighth Symphony by allowing Brucknerian light to pierce through a dense micropolyphonic fabric.

Micropolyphony, the canonic texture developed by György Ligeti, which results in pulseless, dense clusters, persists throughout most of Lux in Tenebris as a way to dissolve and distort Bruckner’s presence. In order to maintain both the characteristic independence of parts in the micropolyphonic textures and the glacial harmonic motion throughout the piece, I assigned five groups of soloists (six soloists from each of the five sections in the strings) to the micropolyphony. As they bend around the harmonic motion set in place by the rest of the orchestra, each of the five groups of soloists functions as both a single voice in the polyphony and a six-voice canon itself.

The work is constructed in three large sections: the first features the main theme of the first movement of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, the second focuses on harmonies that are built from the pitches of that theme, and the third section features a fragmented quotation of the last iteration of the theme (found in the coda of that same movement), which Bruckner himself described as “how it is when one is on his deathbed, and opposite hangs a clock, which, while his life comes to an end, beats on ever steadily: tick, tock, tick, tock.”

In addition to the larger three sections of Lux in Tenebris, there is an underlying grid that determines when events occur in the work, constructed using the golden mean of both the entire work and of each section. The golden mean of the first section is the moment when the theme from the Eighth Symphony pierces through the textures that have persisted since the start of the piece. The golden mean of the second section (and of the entire work) is the only time when the darkness is truly silenced; there is no micropolyphony, no microtones, but rather harmonies being played by the orchestra together as a unified instrument, like an organ momentarily asserting C-major. The third section of the work aims to blend both the darkness and the light by spilling the C-major harmony into the textures that have since represented darkness. The golden mean is used to create further divisions of sections to determine when nearly every event occurs in Lux in Tenebris, be it the entrance of an instrument in a micropolyphonic texture or the entrance of the Brucknerian heartbeat in the timpani and basses.

Although Lux in Tenebris features quotations from only the first movement of the Eighth, it also features the C-major sonority from the coda of the Finale, which represents light in Bruckner’s darkness-to-light narrative. The title Lux in Tenebris is an allusion to this narrative and comes from “et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt” (John 1:5), meaning “and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

Lux in Tenebris performed by Jisoo Kim and the Peabody Symphony Orchestra on April 21, 2017: