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ClassicsOnline Home » BOZIC, S.: Byzantine Mosaic (Kulaglich)
Mosaïque Byzantine, a pianistic fresco in nine tableaux by the Serbian composer Svetislav Božić, is freely inspired by the Byzantine, Oriental and traditional music of Serbia. Based on Byzantine chants by Sufis and Orthodox monks and the whirling dances of the dervishes, it is couched in post-Impressionist language. Nine monasteries in Serbia, Macedonia and Greece, some of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, furnish the titles of the pieces. The White Angel fresco prominent on the cover, a message of peace, fits with the universal rhythm that underlies this work.
Svetislav Božić (b. 1954)
Svetislav Božić has had his compositions performed in Japan, in the United States, Great Britain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, and particularly in Russia. The interpreters of his works have included the Chorus of St Petersburg, the Ukraine Philharmonic, the Oxford Philomusicain the Regent Hallin London, under the patronage of Vladimir Ashkenazy), and the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra in Moscow, conducted by Vladimir Fedoseev. His most important works are Song of Metohija for piano and orchestra, The Racana Prayer for chorus and orchestra, Last love of Istanbul, a symphonic poem, Dream of the Emperor of light for two pianos, The Horses of St-Marc, a symphonic poem, and Liturgy of the Sky for mixed chorus.
Mosaïque Byzantine, a cycle of nine pieces for piano, was conceived in homage to the venerable Orthodox monasteries of Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece, and in honour of their monastic communities of believers.
The broad spectrum of the modal writing conjures up the tones of light and shade that lend enchantment to the often exceptional landscapes amid which these sacred places were built, along with the charm of the colours cast by the stained-glass windows upon the magnificent interiors of these hallowed buildings. The choice of the piano, the use of haunting motifs, and the recapitulation of a long territorial, imperial and religious history all place this composition firmly within the contemporary milieu. Take the modernity of the score as one example: it touches upon the fixed forms of Satie, invokes the folk-inspired rhythms of Janáček, and challenges the breathy pulsation of Reich.
In its dedication to the first Christian ecclesiastical establishment of Europe, the work evokes the persistence into modern times of the Byzantine Empire dismantled in the fifteenth century after its conquest, or its penetration, by the Ottomans. The Orthodox Communion is the living symbol of Europe’s most distant past: a turbulent, painful, prestigious past, which began in a hillside garden in Jerusalem, with Jesus of Nazareth at its centre, and spread beyond the Mediterranean to encompass a vast realm and two successively sacred capitals, Byzantium and Moscow. It is a single corpus of sacred scriptures, beliefs and values, a single movement that originated in Palestine, renewed itself among the Macedonians, and imparted its wisdom, from the Middle East to the steppes of Central Asia.
The work as a whole comprises an initial encounter in which the musician addresses not only the believer but also the music-lover, whether curious or meditative, who seeks an understanding of emotions so profound that we term them sacred. Each of the nine pieces relates to a monastery, of which six have been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list: Gračanica, Bogorodica Ljeviska, Sopocani, Hilandar, Pantelejmon, Studenica. From Kalenic, in Serbia, we hear the repeated daily offering, the rhythm of a day or of a life, perfectly balanced, progressively rising and falling in its regular pattern. The sequence, clear and steady, gives birth to sounds and images that correspond to it; and we seem to see the daily offices follow one another, until the hour of release.
Gračanica, in Kosovo, shows the secret influence of the Sufism brought by the mystics of Islam and made ecumenical by twelfth-century Spain; it dances in twirling round, in Oriental manner. The interpretation has the mastery needed to give the dance nobility and illumination, and the capacity for sudden languor in a passage which—without losing its purity—grows rounded, feminine, and seems dimmed by a tear.
In Serbia, Bogorodica Ljeviska ties prayer to divine office with a humble ribbon. The executant has the wit to be simple when the occasion demands it, never diverging into pointless undulations.
Sopocani, in Serbia, is a deep meditation on truths sealed in a heaven that opens in response to a gentle yet insistent search for the absolute. The touch is light, airy, and strong in the middle register. Human warmth, which the spirit needs for serenity or consolation, comes to an end in fevered abstraction and progressive disembodiment, losing its body, its seat.
Hilandar, in Greece, a Serbian monastery on the independent monastic territory of Mount Athos, knows no rest. It seems as if the Ottoman invasion resounds perpetually within its walls. The horrors of war haunt these spaces like dark insoluble enigmas. The execution is marked by perfect control of rhythm, and by rounded inflexions which, throughout the piece, lend awe, but not shock, to the musical events.
Pantelejmon, a little Russia on Mount Athos, in Greece, is Mother Celestial, an invisible guide, tender and feminine, whose presence and memory accompanies the interior being throughout the course of its spiritual life, in its joys and in its doubts. The touch is so supple as to prove the artist’s heartfelt commitment, placing the listener under maternal protection.
Zica, in Serbia, is a primitive force, refusing to be assuaged, retaining the naïve, unbroken faith of infancy. This childish vigour does not exhaust the interpreter, who stays in close pursuit of its torrential energy.
Studenica, in Serbia, is the chant distilled from wisdom, balm of lost souls or weak vocations, that calms the distressed and the impatient, now in an undertone, now with authority. The playing is mature and severe, as a lesson to an audience seeking pure passion.
Gornjak, in Serbia, begins by chanting, but lives through the terrors of the labyrinth. Forlorn, drained of life, the spirit grows melancholy. Will the final burst of light save it? Or is it a torn and broken soul that the angel bears away? The right hand is splendidly songful, whereas the left, sweet and profound, both troubles and reassures us. The final fire, fierce and brief, is a high-pitched blaze out of dense gloom.
Après une guerre avec un peu d’espoir à travers la pluie (After a war with a little hope through the rain)
In the memory of Svetislav Božić the traumatic events of the bombardment of Belgrade in 1999 are linked to a strange meteorological episode. Symbols betray Balkan sensitivities. Awareness of natural phenomena, or life’s coincidences, is an attitude of mind, is second nature. During the bombardments, steady heavy rain fell on Belgrade, causing flooding, as if heaven had decided to send down an army of its own. Or were these its tears over men’s blind violence? Božić has kept these relentless downpours. In his piece, the rain is densely present, and we imagine we see it falling heavily, driven by the geometric planes imposed by the wind. Water is omnipresent too in its horizontal liquidity, gathering in the streets, lapping, overflowing, soft and menacing, swelling the Danube, knowing no bounds.
At first there are a few scattered drops that the music brings us, dancing and playful. Water which blesses us more than it bothers us. Then come great sweeps of it, still scattered, among the light showers. And the rain does not cease to fall, in quantity, thick and fast, sombre and wearying, harassing, and as if wilfully aggressive. It penetrates everywhere, flooding the urban landscape. Only after the war does its excess run off, as a timid sun returns.
Souvenirs des ancêtres (Memories of our ancestors)
There is reconciliation in the short piece Souvenirs des ancêtres, and the interpreter has been wise to choose it to conclude this journey through the Balkans. It is a lullaby, full of nostalgia and loving-kindness, which by evening light brings peace to an often excessive and wayward humanity. Ancestors are summoned up as good and protective souls, or as the dear shadows of our past childhoods. The music and its interpretation, sweet and concordant, seem to promise us that till the end of our lives we shall never be alone or abandoned but loved, cherished, pardoned.
And so the White Angel, whose likeness illustrates our musical journey, of the thirteenth-century fresco adorning the church of the orthodox monastery of Mileseva, in Serbia, will have stayed with us throughout our listening. It is he whose kindly image was chosen by humans of the twentieth century to be sent into infinity, travelling beyond the stars, the galaxies, messenger of love and peace, in search of other souls, other lives.
English Translation: Janet and Michael Berridge
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BOZIC, S.: Byzantine Mosaic (Kulaglich)