Celestial Symphony, Symphony No. 9
I. The Annunciation
II. Celestial Vaults
The Celestial Symphony is an arrangement of excerpts from Barbara Harbach’s silent film score, The Birth, Life and Death of Christ, which was premiered in 2014. The film was directed by the trailblazing French filmmaker, Alice Guy Blaché (1873-1968), and is considered her crowning achievement.
The first movement, I. The Annunciation portrays the first three tableaux of the film: Arrival in Bethlehem; Nativity and Arrival of the Magi; and The Sleep of Jesus. The repeated motive in the bells depicts the serenity of the sleep of baby Jesus while another motive in the flutes and violins, in 6/8 time versus 3/4, contribute to the joy of the occasion. The clarinet and bassoon lead to a short fanfare in the brass and woodwinds, welcoming the Magi. Then a short rollicking fugue portrays the adulation given to the Christ child with the bell tree punctuating the fugue.
II. Celestial Vaults, the second movement, is the scene describing Saint Veronica. She was so moved with pity when she saw Jesus carrying his cross, she gave him her veil to wipe his face. The mysteriousness of the miracle is shown by the instruments subtly entering on the same pitch as another instrument. In the opening, the clarinet enters on the same pitch as the muted trumpet and a beat later, violin II sneaks in on violin I. The restless harmonic language suggests the mysteriousness of the miracle of Saint Veronica.
The final movement, III. Temptations, reflects the three temptations that Satan offered Christ before his crucifixion. Syncopated rhythms are enhanced with the cellos leading the fray with sinuous melodies. The angels are portrayed by the flutes and upper strings chasing each other while the triangle comments on motives that are reminiscent of a French noel. The timpani ushers in a rhythmic section before returning to the opening sinuousness, followed by the angels’ music. The full orchestra joins in the final temptation, only to be rebuffed.