Jay Schwartz: Zwielicht

Jay Schwartz Zwielicht

Jay Schwartz: Zwielicht

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for six singers, mixed choir(SSATBB), three trombones and organ
Jay Schwartz
SSATBB (mind. je 2 Sänger)
Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Alto (or Countertenor), Tenor, Baritone, Bass
Instrumentation details:
1st tenor-bass trombone
2nd tenor-bass trombone
contrabass trombone
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The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

Two or more opposing, sliding pitches (“glissandi”) form the basis for the temporal progress of Zwielicht; due to their consonant nodal points (intuitively sensed by listeners) and the mighty wake of the pitches striving for unison, a natural, “magnetic” undertow develops, a compelling motivation of the temporal events. In its earliest stages, Western polyphonic music was born of this harmonic gravity. The Zwielicht music portrays the elapsing time between day and night with pitches sliding between consonance and dissonance. Central to the composition’s meaning are liturgical texts and songs for Ascension Day by the St. Gallen monk and lyric poet Notker Balbulus (d. 912), from which isolated text particles directly related to ascension were detached and set to music. Zwielicht had its first performance in June 2012 at St. Gallen Cathedral; the spatially and polyphonically expanded new version was composed for the Cologne Vocal Soloists.

The composition is tripartite. The central piece, for organ solo, is framed on either side by five sections; in the first five, the pitches strive predominantly downwards over long stretches, gliding to unisono. The pitch motion transmutes in the last seven sections to seven-note scales as the music tends strongly upwards whereas, in the central organ solo, descending chromatics (dodecaphonic) collide with rising diatonic (seven-note) scales, thus generating the nodal point of both halves of the composition.

The Greeks defined the diatonic scale more than 2500 year ago; it corresponded to the notion at the time of seven heavenly bodies circling about the earth. The seven notes of this scale were attained as the result of seven steps of the interval of the fifth. For its own part, a fifth consists of seven semitone steps; thus it is easy to see that the number 7 has left an incomparable imprint on the history of music.

The story of the number 12 is similar. It has a special relation to the number 7 in musical theory; the Greeks distributed the 12 chromatic pitches over a series of fifths extending over seven octaves. Moreover, 12 was related to the 12 signs of the zodiac and to the 12 principal Olympian deities. Christianity gives 12 to the number of apostles and symbolically allots 12 doors to Heavenly Jerusalem.

The seven-pitch diatonic aspect of the composition’s second half appears as a Mixolydian scale, as in Gregorian chant. Notker built his Alleluja. Dominus in Sina – the climax of his Ascension sequence – on this scale, which became the inspiration to use it as the central musical motif in the second half of Zwielicht.

The Mixolydian mode is fascinating in that, in the natural overtone series, almost all Mixolydian scales are found in the upper registers from the 8th to the 16th partials. After that, the overtone series becomes chromatic/microtonal, at which point it is no longer melodically comprehensible as a specific scale. Thus the Mixolydian mode seems to be a “melody” at the point of transition between a “tonic” and its endless spectrum of overtones.

The music of Zwielicht drafts this acoustical phenomenon as an analogon; light slips imperceptibly away as twilight inexorably advances.

Jay Schwartz

Translation: Grant Chorley, 2013

Special prints


Jay Schwartz: Zwielicht

full score
for six singers, mixed choir(SSATBB), three trombones and organ , 60’


Jay Schwartz: Zwielicht

study score
for six singers, mixed choir(SSATBB), three trombones and organ , 60’

World première

St. Andreas-Kirche, Köln (DE)
Jay Schwartz
Main soloists:
Dominik Susteck, org; Daniel Vesel, tbn; Kevin Austin, tbn; Stephen Menotti, tbn

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