Five Fires

Gerald Levinson

Rental
Performing Ensemble: Orchestra
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

When I was asked to write a piece to celebrate the centennial of the Cincinnati Symphony, I turned enthusiastically to sketches containing pentaphonic fanfarings and fragments of original melodies, inspired by the music of the bronze-keyed gamelans (percussion orchestras) of Bali. The resulting piece, "Five Fires", is the companion piece I had long planned to "Bronze Music", a band piece which I wrote while living in Bali in 1980.

Most styles of Balinese music are based on five-note scales; however, the many different scale and interval types are divided into two general tuning systems; "pelog", which contains small intervals resembling our half-steps, and is used in almost all large-ensemble styles; and "slendro", which does not use half-steps, and is used mainly in the shimmering and elegant shadow-play accompaniment. (Slendro, in fact, resembles pentaphonic scales found so commonly, in such widespread musical cultures around the world, that it has been called ?the human song? by composer Lou Harrison). "Bronze Music" is a purely pelog piece. "Five Fires", by contrast, is written entirely in a Western approximation of the slendro scale ? sometimes, however, superimposed in several simultaneous layers, producing ?spicy? polytonal clashes between contrasting instrumental groups.

The piece, festive and ceremonial in character, is for the most part not modeled on any particular type of Balinese music, though the constant metallic resonance of gongs, bells, piano, and vibraphone certainly imbues the orchestra with a gamelan-like sonority. After a brisk introduction on a characteristic shadow-play rhythm, the main body of the piece is slow and ritualistic. Percussion ostinatos, intertwinings of oboes and clarinets, and fanfare motives alternate, becoming progressively more elaborate with each recurrence. A dancelike middle section then takes off from the rhythms of the introduction, leading to a return of the majestic manner of the first part.

In an ancient palm-leaf manuscript relating the mythic origins of Balinese music, the five tones of the slendro scale ? gifts of the gods ? are named the "Five Fires" (Panca Gini) and are imbued with mystic power, as these sounds emanating from the primordial powers of the cosmos coalesce into our physical world.

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Scores & Parts

Five Fires - Full Score - Study
Five Fires - Full Score - Large

Additional Information

Composition Date 1995
Duration 9:00
Orchestration 3(2Picc.) 3 4(EbCl.) 3(Cbsn.) - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 3Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str.
Premiere Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz conducting, May 10, 2001.

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