in pace

Written for Nebula Ensemble, in pace is an attempt to obtain a feeling of tranquility while also looking back to and deconstructing Orlande de Lassus’ motet for three voices of the same name. Throughout in pace, elements from the Lassus, such as harmonies, imitation, and vowels from the text (the last two verses from psalm 4), emerge as individual objects that are manipulated and distorted by various textures.

The first section of in pace explores the harmonic material of the Lassus motet, specifically that which is used in his setting of the first verse of text. The flute, clarinet, and bassoon play these harmonies in a shimmering texture, while the trumpet plays a cantus firmus-like melody reminiscent of each singer’s entrance in the Lassus. Following this opening section, the textures that had previously formed the harmonies from the Lassus now begin to overwhelm the material – harmonies are placed out of order, occasionally on top of each other, and are used more sparingly. These manipulations of Lassus’s harmonic material continue until the motet is whittled down to several of its smallest elements, namely the sonorities of F-major and B-flat major. In addition to these sonorities, following the dissolution of the Lassus, there is an emphasis on the overtones of a low Bb (up to the 14th partial, rounded to the nearest sixth-tone). In the stillest moments of in pace, the texture disappears, and the listener is left with only these partials.

Many of the textures that recur throughout in pace allude to the imitative entrances in Lassus’ motet, such as those found at “in pace,” “quoniam,” and “constituisti,” where Lassus has the three singers alternating between the different pitches of the harmonies. Another recurring texture in in pace is created by the instrumentalists alternating between rapidly tapping on the mechanisms of the instruments and blowing air through their instruments while mouthing certain phonemes (which are taken from the text of the Lassus motet).

The piece concludes with a two-part coda that is a final reflection on three elements of the Lassus: harmony, texture, and text. The coda begins with only the texture of phonemes and key-clicks and gives way to a section that simultaneously states the sonorities of F-major and B-flat major in a texture reminiscent of the opening of the piece.

The prerecorded tracks (two wind trios) are used to reinforce the textures and to create a thick blanket of sound to envelop the ensemble and listener in the feeling of peace and, at certain points, in the feeling of its absence.

Carlos Bandera