Instrumentation: Bb Clarinet, Harp, Violin 1 & 2, Viola, Cello, Contrabass
Commission: Kassia Ensemble
August Wilson Center
The Kassia Ensemble commissioned Kassia in honor of their namesake, the 9th century Byzantine Abbess, poet and hymnographer, and the only woman whose hymns are included in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy. She is also likely the first woman whose music has survived until now. Kassia is scored for the entire ensemble of clarinet, harp, and string quintet. I drew some motivic shapes from two of her most well-known chants: The Fallen Woman and Augustus, the Monarch. I am grateful for the important work of musicologist Diane Touliatos-Banker both for her translation of Kassia’s music into contemporary notation, and for her deep study of Byzantine music. I was also inspired by the rhythms of Kassia’s poetry and had verses read in the original Greek by Christina Boltsi to get a better feel for them. Kassia unfolds in one movement, whose emotional character ranges from the gentleness of the opening to wild cries of pain, from pensive yearnings to dreams of the world beyond. While the Covid-19 pandemic precluded the planned meeting with the entire ensemble during the compositional process, virtual sessions with the individual members provided welcome connections in dark times. I also wish to thank the Spark Foundation and Opportunity Fund of Pittsburgh for their support of this project.