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Invisible Mosaic II


Kernis has composed three works with the title Invisible Mosaic, all within a short time of one another, and traces them to the experience of viewing the magnificent late-Roman mosaics of the churches of Ravenna when he was staying in Italy in 1985. Noting the artists’ virtuosity in constructing gigantic and vivid images out of thousands of fragments of coloured tile, he was inspired to use an analogous process in his music, building up a large structure through the patterning and layering of tiny fragments. While Invisible Mosaic I is scored for only four instruments, and Invisible Mosaic III for full orchestra, Invisible Mosaic II, composed between October 1987 and February 1988 in California and New York, and premiered in Paris by the Ensemble Intercontemporain, conducted by Kent Nagano, requires a large chamber ensemble of 17 players—four woodwind, four brass, piano (doubling celesta), harp, string quintet and two percussionists who play a wide variety of instruments including vibraphone, marimba, gongs, drums, chimes, cymbals, tom-toms, wood block, thunder sheet, anvil and a canister filled with sand.

The work begins with a raucous, heterophonic toccata in constantly changing metres for the full ensemble marked meccanico, filling the entire available register with furious activity. This is interrupted by staccato, leggiero writing for high woodwind and pitched percussion, with flourishes from solo celesta. The toccata resumes, only to be interrupted again by fanfare-figures of rapid repeated notes, and then by canons in the strings marked intenso, and then a more forceful string-piano-woodwind music in triplets, with pizzicati and exaggerated glissandi in the strings. And so the music proceeds, continually changing focus, adding new gestures for different instrumental combinations, although the earlier fragments—especially the opening music, which functions as a kind of ritornello—do recur, usually in a varied form or as brief echoes of themselves.

This continuous nervous activity persists until five minutes into the piece, when it dissolves into a silence, out of which emerges something very different—long, slow, quiet and above all sustained lines at a Lento tempo, which build up from the lowest register on strings and woodwind and become an evolved an intricate wind-instrument polyphony. This happens several times, in slow waves, becoming an intense, melodious, almost devotional music in high register of the strings and woodwind and become an evolved, intricate wind-instrument polyphony.

Eventually the fast, fragmented music sets in again, starting with a version of the staccato, leggiero music for woodwind percussion and celesta that was the second ‘fragment’ to be introduced at the start of the work. This and other fragments from the first section return in varied forms, but now with a calm rising line or lines, typical of the slow section, entwined with them. A heterophonic climax topped off by a passage of constantly-accelerating repeated notes breaks off for a new, determined unison passage (piu mosso) in the strings, woodwind and percussion, still with sustained rising lines in the brass. This could be regarded as the beginning of a ‘finale’ section, which grows steadily more spring-like in sonority and ecstatic in melodic gesture. A calm coda combining the rising lines with decorative arpeggios in harp and piano and soft repeated notes in low registers eventually fades out in the remarkably beautiful, beneficent final pages.

from notes by Malcolm MacDonald © 2010


Kernis: Goblin Market
Studio Master: SIGCD186Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD186 track 10

Recording date
10 September 2008
Recording venue
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Mike Hatch & Matt Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Kernis: Goblin Market (SIGCD186)
    Disc 1 Track 10
    Release date: January 2011
    Download only
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