• Aaron Jay Kernis
  • Venit Illuminatio (Toward the Illumination of Colored Light) (2019)

  • AMP and AJK Music (World)

Commissioned by and dedicated to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Stéphane Denève, music director

  • 3(pic).3(ca).3(Ebcl,bcl).3(cbn)/4.3.2+btbn.1/timp.3perc/cel/hp/str
  • 14 min

Programme Note

Composer note:
Though this piece no longer holds its original title, Red Alchemy, many of the ideas that got it started are the same for this new work, Venit Illuminatio. Alchemy is a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination, and in my case I am always thinking about the transformation and exchange of emotions and musical ideas and the animation/creation of a wide range of orchestral textures colors deployed through this large group of brilliant musicians.
But what does this mean? Music for me is something magical. It goes beyond words into places where the weight of chords and sounds, expressions of groups of notes and instrumental timbres take the place of language and punctuation. The syntax in this work has relationships to older music and to content which have never been expressed before now, and, of a particularly personal nature to me, to sensory and sensual feelings that I have experienced inside my body while composing. Sometimes, if I'm very lucky, I will come upon a compositional moment where a chord or an instrumental idea will burst out inside my head as color, or even in heightened Technicolor! Hence its place in the subtitle of this piece, Toward the Illumination of Colored Light.
For structure, well, I don't want to weigh down the listeners experience with signposts and analytical reductions. This music flows in its own time, with its own shapes and hopefully, internal logic. It's not one thing, speed or idea, it traverses many things that shift constantly over its 14-minute length. There are aspects in it, (as in the last movement of Brahms' 4th Symphony), of Passacaglia — melodic shapes and particular chords that are repeated over and over into different guises and characters, always in new contexts and with new meanings. One could take a x-ray of it the entire work and see three large sections: beginning with a floating line that keeps returning, but mostly a highly changeable, always in flux first section; the second simpler and more steady in character, the third more unified and dramatic — leading toward some ultimate resolution in the last moments. Much of the music is lyrical, mostly singing and slow-ish, with contrast coming from darting and passion-driven activity.
  • [Some descriptive words from the score – searching, soaring, floating, with passion, intimate, spacious, heavy, aggressive, suspended, ecstatic.]
  • [This movement may be the missing Adagio for my 4th Symphony, written in 2018, or it maybe a stand-alone movement — or both]

If there's any overarching idea I hold onto while composing, it was to live actively through the compositional process of this piece, trying to leave the dark thoughts and conflicted emotions (that are so present in these years) behind and find a transformative experience of ecstasy and light. Not just white light of inspiration, but the colored light of change and imagination.
  • [Some musical influences on the work — Mahler's 10th Symphony Adagio; Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy; Sibelius's 6th and 7th Symphonies; Messiaen's orchestral work]

A few explanations of the Latin title:
  • Venit Illuninatio — literally, "the brightness, (of any kind, spiritual or otherwise) is coming."
  • The word venit (from venire, to come) is Present Tense, implying we are not there yet, but heading toward a goal, stating most importantly that something indeed is coming, i.e. not to give up hope.
  • The word illuminatio, a Late Latin noun meaning spiritual enlightenment, or brightness derives from the Classical Latin verb illuminare, to throw into light. Illuminatio, by its delayed position adds high expectation and answers the question, "what is coming?"…the light, the brightness, a cause for hope.

Many thanks to Prof. Rosanne Gulino for her work to find just the right Latin words.
— Aaron Jay Kernis
The score is dedicated to Stéphane Denève and the St. Louis Symphony, with thanks.



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