MICHAEL-THOMAS FOUMAI (b.1987)
The Light-Bringer (2010)
Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai
2010: FRAMING OMENS
Two thousand ten catalogs a year of Earth and astronomical portents, an ominous birth year for the fire and brimstone symphonic poem, The Light-Bringer. The longest annular solar eclipse of the 3rd millennium occurred on January 15, three days after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed 316,00 in Haiti. February's 8.8-magnitude Chilean earthquake triggered a Pacific-wide tsunami and advisory warning in the Hawaiian Islands. Volcanic ash from Iceland's Mount Eyjafjallajökull April eruption disrupted European air shutdown on a scale not seen since World War II. Six days later, tragedy struck the Gulf of Mexico with the Deepwater Horizon explosion. June's monsoon rains flooded the Pakistan province of Khyber, displacing over a million. The final three months mirrored the year's start with September's 7.1 magnitude earthquake in New Zealand, October's Mentawai earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia, the repeated eruptions of Mount Merapi in Central Java, and the celestial events of December (Hale Bopp sighting, and the first total lunar eclipse since 1683 that coincided with the first day of Northern winter and Southern summer solstices.)
"The genesis of The Light-Bringer comes from my love of sci-fi and horror cinema and an early fascination with the Book of Revelations from my Sunday school childhood. Hollywood's obsession with the sinister and occult in the 70s brought a palpable terror to cinemas with The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976). These shows appeared on cable television, usually late at night. I was always warned to avoid them, which had the reverse effect. The curiosity to see these films mirrored the biblical tale with forbidden fruit in a way. The movies, terrifying and intriguing to my 12-year-old self, had compelling and wit-scaring music by various composers of the 20th century, including Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning score for the latter. It was an education in using music to communicate not just the inexpressible, but the horror of the unimaginable." – Michael-Thomas Foumai
The Light-Bringer takes its name from the Latin name "Lucifer," which translates as "light-bringer." It is a tone poem alluding to the fallen angel, banished from the Heavens for attempting to usurp divine power. Lucifer's fall from grace and the celestial battle of angels recounted in the Book of Revelations serves as the work's dramatic narrative:
"And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found anymore in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the Earth, and his angels were cast out with him." —Revelations 12:7
Hollywood's dramatization of Revelation 13:18, with "the number of the beast," has become a symbol of an anti-Christ figure aligned with Lucifer. Embedded within the work, the number is heard on a micro level with the triple repetition of six notes. On a macro level, the work contains six major sections, with the central climax occurring roughly six-hundred and sixty-six seconds (eleven minutes and six seconds) into the work. Finally, on a performance level, tempo markings are all multiples of six.
The work contains six sections but forms a larger trinity structure (Fast-Slow-Fast). The opening six brass chords on A-flat introduces the antagonist with slithering groans in the strings. The roles of the strings and brass are then reversed into a cathedral of Gothic doom. A vigorous symphonic scherzo with energized passage erupts, a cosmic battle scene of angels swooping with clashing swords in aerial combat. The subsequent section serves a traditional slow movement, a licking of wounds before the great celestial war and the return of the six A-flat chords. Finally, at the peak of the dramatic intensity, Lucifer is divinely banished, literally struck out of paradise through 14 percussive hammer strikes (alluding to the 14 Stations of the Cross), and slinks away to a dark pianissimo abyss in the double basses. Harp and timpani toll his demise with faltering weakening pulses between the demonic and the divine (A-flat and D, the musical interval historically representing the Devil–six steps between them).
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra first performed the Light-Bringer on February 13, 2011, under Matthew Kraemer. The 13-minute score calls for two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MO