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Serbian Chant



    for six percussionist (1988)

Vox in Rama - for six percussionists (1988)

-available from Steve Weiss Music
Steve Weiss Music

"Vox in Rama" for six percussionists was composed in the spring of 1988. The work received its premiere by the Unversity of Akron Percussion ensemble, Larry Snider, dir. in December 1988.  It has also been performed by the Eastman School of Music Percussion Ensemble and the New England Conservatory Percussion ensemble and was a featured composition at the Tanglewood summer camp in 1995.

The music was inspired by the following scriptural passage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew:

"Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.

Then was fulfilled that which was spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 'In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are no more.' "

(Matthew 2:16-18)

When I had initially begun this work, I had intended it to be an abstract piece for percussion. However, the wide dynamic range, timbral variety and expressive potential of the ensemble suggested a more programmatic context for the piece. I'd always been struck by the scriptural passage above, in particular the unconsolable grief of "Rachel" for her children. And so it is that I decided to build the work around this tragic historical event.

"Vox in Rama" is cast in four contiguous movements. The first movement - "The Playground" - features a brief introductory section which is followed by a series of layered ostinati. These ostinati form the accompaniment for the principle theme - played on the marimba. The tonal simplicity of the movement coupled with the primarily light metallic timbres evokes the natural and unassuming innocence of children at play. The second movement - "The Horsemen" - features instruments of primarily indefinite pitch, and paints the picture of a cold, methodical, and diabolically efficient killing machine. The various wooden and membranous timbres, at first projected loosely against the canvas of time, are progressively assembled into rigid, march-like rhythmic structures which crescendo to the precipice of silence. Movement III - "The Slaughter of The Innocents" - combines the contrasting timbres of the two previous movements in a primarily antiphonal manner; its relentless and energetic compound rhythms build to a thunderous climax which is intended to physically, if not emotionally, impact the listener. This chaotic sound mass dissolves into an abyss of silence into which we peer but dare not enter. From this silence emerges the voice of "Rachel" lamenting her lost children. This is the forth and final movement. Here an unaccompanied vibraphone is heard presenting a simple, chant-like theme which is then restated against a harmonic accompaniment. This theme is actually a quote from the "Play of Herod", a renowned medieval liturgical drama. The text that accompanied this theme seems quite appropriate, so I will include it here:

Then Rachel, falling upon the children: "My spirit is anxious within me; my heart is troubled within me." Then the consolers lead Rachel away.

It is clear that while we can witness Rachel's grief, and indeed grieve with her, we can never know or fully comprehend the depth of that grief. The reprise of the "Playground" theme following "Rachel's Lament," and the ominous manner in which the composition ends are left for the listener to interpret.

Nikola Resanovic