Concerto for violin, harpsichord,
percussion and orchestra
Based on the Book of Imaginary Beings
by Jorge Luis Borges
Phantasmagorias I Concerto for violin, harpsichord, keyboard instruments, percussion and string orchestra was written in 2008-2010 and recorded in January 2011 in collaboration with the British vio linist Roy Theaker and the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gheorghi Dimitrov.
The world premiere of Phantasmagorias I was presented in London on 25 November 2012 at the St John's Smith Square Concert Hall by the violonist Ivo Stankov, the Arcadia Mundi/I Maestri Orchestra and the conductor George Hlawiczka. The Bulgarian premiere of the concerto took place in Sofia on 10 April 2013 with Mila Georgieva as a soloist and the Sofia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Deyan Pavlov. The concerto is written for violin with small string orchestra accompaniment coupled with a selected set of percussion and keyboards arranged in several configurations and assigned various tasks in each of the three parts of the work. It is based on the Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges
(first published in 1957 under the original title Manual de zoologia fantastica).
In the first part – Ficciones. Molto Allegro, the selected set consists of kettle-drums and four tom-toms which strengthen and emphasize the continuous, almost hysterical mechanical tension of a single machine, built up on the basis of a virtuoso violin part.
Si el sueno fuera (como dicen) una
tregua, un puro reposo de la mente,
por que, si te despiertan bruscamente,
sientes que te han robado una fortuna?
(J. L. Borges)
In the second part – El Sueno Andante, it is the glockenspiel as a petite colorful tinge that accompanies the violin cantilena at the end of its first part.
And at the end is the third part – El libro de los seres imaginarios.Moderato-Allegro moderato-Allegro, with its harpsichord play, solo celesta and percussion-like piano, that is, instruments assigned almost theatrical roles in a kaleidoscopic part bearing the subtitle "Manual de zoologia fantistica" which was inspired by the phantasmagoric creatures created by one
of my most favorite authors Jorge Luis Borges. Here the “animals” are five: - Phoenix, - Unicorn, - A King of Fire and his
Steed, - Animals in the Form of Spheres and - Haniel, Kafziel, Azriel, and Aniel.
I emphasize the role of these instruments albeit sometimes they are but slight touches that work together to build a grander surrealist picture laden with all kinds of images and references to various styles. It is on purpose that I stress the orchestral structure because of its role in the entire piece and also because of its interaction with the almost continuous part of the solo violin. The violin solo is usually one the greatest challenges to a composer, especially when he is not a violinist. Typically the traps of pianist thinking and the application of keyboard methods to violin solos are the most frequent temptation. It was something I was trying to avoid since I started working on this piece. In this case, my collaboration with the violinists Roy Theaker, Ivo Stankov and Mila Georgieva during my work on the concerto was more than fruitful.
Animals in the Form of Spheres
The sphere is the most uniform of solid bodies since every point on its surface is equidistant from its centre. Because of this, and because of its ability to revolve on an axis without straying from a fixed place, Plato (Timaeus, 33) approved the judgement of the Demiurge, who gave the world a spherical shape. Plato thought the world to be a living being and in the Laws (898) stated that the planets and stars were living as well. In this way, he enriched fantastic zoology with vast spherical animals and cast aspersions on those slow-witted astronomers who failed to understand that the circular course of heavenly bodies was voluntary.
In Alexandria over five hundred years later, Origen, one of the Fathers of the Church, taught that the blessed would come back to life in the form of spheres and would enter rolling into Heaven.
During the Renaissance, the idea of Heaven as an animal reappeared in Lucilio Vanini; the Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino spoke of the hair, teeth, and bones of the earth; and Giordano Bruno felt that the planets were great peaceful animals, warm-blooded, with regular habits, and endowed with reason. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the German astronomer Johannes Kepler debated with the English mystic Robert Fludd which of them had first conceived the notion of the earth as a living monster, ‘whose whalelike breathing, changing with sleep and wakefulness, produces the ebb and flow of the sea’. The anatomy, the feeding habits, the colour, the memory, and the imaginative and shaping faculties of the monster were sedulously studied by Kepler.
In the nineteenth century, the German psychologist Gustav Theodor Fechner (a man praised by William James in his A Pluralistic Universe) rethought the preceding ideas with all the earnestness of a child. Anyone not belittling his hypothesis that the earth, our mother, is an organism - an organism superior to plants, animals, and men - may look into the pious pages of Fechner’s Zend-Avesta. There we read, for example, that the earth’s spherical shape is that of the human eye, the noblest organ of our body. Also, that ‘if the sky is really the home of angels, these angels are obviously the stars, for the sky has no other inhabitants’.
- Jorge Luis Borges "The Book of Imaginary Beings", translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni
© 2020, Gheorghi Arnaoudov
© 2020, Paintings by Yassen Panov
Contact e-mail: garnaoudov(at)gmail.com