Inici » Articles, Composició actual, núm. 011, juny del 2011 29 juny 2011

Chemin de silence – a work for theorbo solo


«Chemin de silence»was written for Peter Söderberg in 2009-10. The piece is in three parts and even if the piece is composed to be played as presented on the CD (Phono Suecis PSCD 186), each part can also be played as a separate piece. The three parts of «Chemin de silence» do also belong to a larger suite of pieces called «M / illuminationes» where all the parts can be combined and played in any order.

©Juan Antonio Muro.  Edge-Stone, 2001

©Juan Antonio Muro. Edge-Stone, 2001

«M / illuminationes» is written for the Ensemble Lipparella and the first four parts of the project was composed in 2008-09, and first performed at Hägerstens Kyrka in Stockholm in February 2009. It is scored for voice (counter-tenor or mezzo-soprano), recorder, baroque violin, viola da gamba and theorbo. Some parts are for the full quintet, while others are for trio, quartet or solo. In fact, this work is an on-going work and there are no plan for the number of parts that will be composed. So far, there are five parts composed for the ensemble, and then the three part for theorbo solo, «Chemin de silence» which will be presented in detail in this article.

The theme and ideas for «M / illuminationes» is the pilgrimage, both the literally travels to places like Santiago de Compostella and metaphorically the inner journeys that a human can undertake in contemplation and in searching for deeper understanding of the mysteries of life and God. The texts come from different sources,  verses from writers as Baudulaire, «Illuminationes» and Rilke, «The Book of Pilgrimage»and «Duino Elegies», as well as from fragments of descriptions of revelations and old hymns.

One important aspect in composing this piece is the fact that I’m guitarplayer myself. I have composed music for many different types of stringed instruments since more than two decades. My most important collaboration has been my work with guitarist Stefan Östersjö. Our work and experiences in investigating different scordaturas for many different types of guitars, like the ten-stringed guitar and the eleven-stringed altoguitar, did contribute to the way I worked out the tuning for the theorbo. One of my most important pieces when it comes to special tunings for guitars is «Il liuto d’rfeo» for charango, six-stringed guitar, ten-stringed guitar and tape, written for Östersjö in 1998-99.
Special tunings for stringed instruments also open up interesting ways on how to use harmonics, which is especially notably in the third part of «Chemin de silence».

Describing the harmonic and melodic material used in composing «Chemin de silence» is difficult. There are no strict system, no specific scales or chord progressions that are used as the fundament. However, as an attempt to give a simple description of the way I’m working with the harmonic and melodic material is that the music moves between different, in a traditional sense, tonalities. They can be heard very clearly but is mostly present just very short, the tonal passages become blurred and they dissolve into passages where the sense of tonality disappears and where certain gestural materials became the focus, which in turn is further transgressed into new tonal areas. For example, the very opening, the first bar can be analyzed as a E flat harmonic minor scale, that is dissolved in the next bar (see example 4). Bar 3 and a few bars onward can be seen as in the key of C minor (see example 7). This is just one way of analyzing these bars, typically, the tonal passages are often ambiguous.
The rythmic and gestural material is composed as constant variations on certain of the motifs that are presented; a single idea is varied, eventually turned into a completely new idea that is further varied and developed.

Although I often try to play at least a little on the guitar instruments I write for I never really sat down and played the theorbo. Instead I worked with Peter Söderberg and closely studied his way of playing, in order to understand the possibilities as well as the limitations and difficulties of the instrument. We did this first in 2008 for the first parts of «M/illuminationes», then further more for the solo piece.


The tuning of the theorbo in «Chemin de silence» as well as in «M/illuminationes»is based on the traditional tuning in A, with four strings lowered a half tone, and two strings lowered a quarter tone.

Example 1

There is an extensive use of quarter tones in the piece. Not only is the 1st and 7th strings tuned a quarter tone low, but also an extra fret is placed between the nut and the first fret. This opens up a multitude of possibilities to work with quarter tone, like the following figure in bar 25 of the first part.

Listen the example 2

Example 2