PHILIP RICE

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The Unspeakable Names of Stars

SAT / SSA.TTB antiphonal choirs / 7 minutes

The Unspeakable Names of Stars was commissioned by Matthew Shepard and the Te Deum Chamber Choir for their Spring 2014 program. Matthew asked me to compose a piece without lyrics to fit the theme of the concert which explored the power of music to overcome and transcend words. The piece uses star catalogue designations fashioned by German astronomer Johann Bayer in 1603. Bayer used letters of the Greek alphabet to indicate hierarchies of star brightness within constellations. Here, the singers intone these Greek letters, with dynamics proportional to the brightness of the designation they are singing at that moment. Two primary groups, SSA and TBB tutti choirs alternate between languid homophonic textures reminiscent of early mediaeval organum and florid cacophony evoking later polyphonic styles. A third group of soloists from across the hall sings the Latin names of the brightest stars in the heavens.

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Recording: Matthew Shepard and the Te Deum Chamber Choir, world premiere at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Kansas City, MO, 4/12/14.

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