Composition Department

The Clouds of Magellan

Indiana University New Music Ensemble

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The Clouds of Magellan was commissioned by Indiana University to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the University's founding in 1820. The work was composed in 1995 and is cast in a single movement lasting about fourteen minutes; the first performance was given by the Indiana University Concert Orchestra in February 1996 under the direction of David Dzubay. 

Musically the work is a hommage to the music of Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky, two composers whose works influenced my earliest compositional efforts, and to whom I still turn for inspiration. Though no music by either composer is quoted, the general references to each will be obvious even to a casual listener. 

The Magellanic Clouds "Nubeculae magellani" are two bright nebulae visible from the southern hemisphere, used by the earliest sailors (and ultimately Magellan, hence their current designation) as important aids to navigation. Their appearance in the title refers not only to Debussy and Stravinsky, my chosen "navigators" in this piece, but also to something more general, personal, and extra-musical. Among the remedies the great seventeenth-century English prose writer Robert Burton prescribes in his Anatomy of Melancholy as solace for the misfortunes of the human condition is the observation of the night sky. With the nebulae of the title standing in for all the stars, The Clouds of Magellan is my own metaphorical contemplation of the heavens, a musical attempt to exhilarate a sorrowful heart "in Burton's evocative words" through Topick starres, apertio portarum, in the Dodecotemories or constellations, the Moones mansions, such aspects of Planets, such winds, or dissolving Ayre.

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