Sunday, March 28, 2010

Akhnaten







Just been listening a recording of the Philip Glass opera Akhnaten, which I first heard way back in 1989. It must also have been around 88/89 that I attended the roughly-sketched Glass opera, 'The making of the Representative for Planet 8', which is based upon a novella by Doris Lessing and performed at the Coliseum by the E.N.O. A work which contains some of the motifs of a far better-known composition by Glass, his Violin Concerto (1989). Can't wait to hear it performed at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival by the Russian State Orchestra with the violinist Chloë Hanslip playing.Just been listening a recording of the Philip Glass opera Akhnaten, which I first heard way back in 1989. It must also have been around 88/89 that  attended the roughly-sketched Glass opera, 'The making of the Representative for Planet 8', which is based upon a novella by Doris Lessing and performed at the Coliseum by the E.N.O. A work which contains some of the motifs of a far better-known composition by Glass, his Violin Concerto (1989). Can't wait to hear it performed at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival by the Russian State Orchestra with the violinist Chloë Hanslip playing.

I was fortunate enough to return to the Coliseum in 2006 to hear and see the spectacle 'Satagrayha', the second in a cycle of three operas Glass composed in the 1980's.The dark colouration of the orchestral tone in Akhnaten is due to the fact that violins are totally absent from the string orchestra. There's a fair battery of percussion instruments and a synthesizer in the scoring though. Now the work sounds not so much of the flesh-pots and opulence of ancient Egypt as of the decade of plenty and excess, the 1980's. Still stirring stuff, especially in the dance sequence and the memorable 'Hymn to to Sun' sung by the counter-tenor Pharaoh. Its text which bears some resemblance to Psalm 104..The sacred text quoted is from the Pyramid texts of the Old Kingdom, and is recited early on in the opera.Opened are the double doors of the horizon
Unlocked are its bolts
Clouds darken the sky
 The stars reign down
The Constellations stagger
The bones of the hell hounds tremble
The porters are silent
When they see this king
Dawning as a soul
Men fall
Their name is not
Seize thou this king by his arm
Take this king to the sky
That he die not on earth
Among men
He flies who flies
This king flies away from you Ye mortals
He is not of the earth
He is of the sky
He flaps his wings like a zeret bird
He goes to the sky
He goes to the sky
On the Wind.

In modern times, it was Sigmund Freud who first proposed that Hebraic monotheism may have been adopted by Moses from the 'heretical' Pharaoh Akhnaten; the Egyptian Pharaoh who replaced the crowded pantheon of gods with worship of the solar disc, Aten, the Sun, effectively established the world's first, if short-lived, monotheism. Aknaten lived circa 1350 B.C but the dates for Moses are far less certain. Some have proposed that Moses lived under the reign of Rameses II but there's good archaeological evidence to suggest that Moses and the Exodus are of an earlier era and therefore acquainted with Aknaten's revolutionary monotheism. Freud's break-away 'disciple', Carl Jung explains the influence Egyptian theology made upon Christianity theology thus-

The Osiris cult offers an excellent example. At first only Pharaoh participated in the transformation of the god, since he alone "had an Osiris"; but later the nobles of the Empire acquired an Osiris too, and finally this development culminated in the Christian idea that everyone has an immortal soul and shares directly in the Godhead. In Christianity the development was carried still further when the outer God or Christ gradually became the inner Christ of the individual believer, remaining one and the same though dwelling in many. - C.W. Vol.9 part 1: 229

The book to read on Philip Glass' trilogy of operas is 'Opera on the Beach', Faber and Faber 1988
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