SEVEN grew out of two cycles of seven organ pieces by Singaporeans: the first inspired by the third part of Bach’s Clavier-Übung, and the second inspired by the Seven Angels described in the biblical Book of Revelation. Taking the idea of the sacred and celestial, each composer weaves their own unique voice into this tapestry, reaching beyond worldly existence into the transcendental and divine.
A project conceptualised by Phoon Yu
Organist and performer: Phoon Yu
Composers: Jonathan Shin, Huang Ding Chao, Syafiqah Adha' Sallehin, Tan Yuting, Lee Jinjun, Emily Koh, Wynne Fung, and Chen Zhangyi
Recorded and mixed by: Christopher Clarke, Tan Jun Heng, Carreon Jan Vincent Denis, and Augustine Koh Hong Rui (OCCD AUDIO)
Produced by: Aw Wei Zheng (OCCD AUDIO)
Mastering engineer: Dominik Streicher (MSM Productions (Singapore))
Album cover art: Mervin Wong
Record label: Centaur Records
In A Postlude to Bach’s ‘Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr’, Jonathan Shin takes Bach’s setting as his model and reimagines it as what Bach would have written ‘had he time-travelled to present-day U.S.A and heard jazz and bluegrass’ instead. Bach’s original setting is interwoven with additional musical material, supported by numerous key and time signature changes. A very strong sense of rhythm dominates the piece, with the varying rhythmic changes giving it an angular and lively feel. With a slow and grand finale, Shin evokes the plenum registrations of a Silbermann or Arp Schnitger instrument, before ending with a final murmured chord.
On the other hand, in Fantasia on ‘Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot’, Huang Ding Chao renders the language of God – as inscribed on the tablets given to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:4-21)–in decidedly modern terms. Unorthodox techniques are brought to bear throughout the piece to depict the Ten Commandments–with tone clusters, aleatorically rendered patterns, and slamming the arm into the keyboard being Huang’s musical translation of God’s decrees. Split somewhat into ten phases, the piece ends as it begins: with the enunciation of a seventh; a significant number often appearing in the Bible.
Meanwhile, Syafiqah Adha’ Sallehin’s We believe all in one God taps into a common belief of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: before anything began, there was God. Syafiqah aptly represents this as a single D in the bass, beginning and providing the foundation of the piece as surely as God began and supported all creation. Chords build and motifs flourish over the intoning note, alternatively fading in and out until the final reduction to the omnipresent D.
Tan Yuting’s Vater unser im Himmelreich uses the notes of each chorale phrase as an underlying thread throughout each section, expanding musically upon the material and turning each plea to the Heavenly Father into a series of petitions and entreaties. As the Christian takes Jesus’s model (Matthew 6:9-13) as a basis for their prayer, so Tan builds up the starting material via cross-rhythms and outlined chords, elaborating upon the chorale phrases. A series of appoggiaturas close the piece, poetically representing its ascension to the glowing heavens.
Contrastingly, Lee Jinjun gives a dark colour to the river where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist in his Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam through heavy chromaticism and a constantly moving stream of quavers. Above this swirling waterway, Lee intones the notes of the chorale, sounding it mostly in long minims, with individual phrases appearing in different voices of the piece. The final chords pronounce the God’s affirmation–this is His Son, in whom He is well pleased (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22).
Emily Koh’s Fantasia on ‘Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir’ uses the chorale phrases as a structural element—all the notes are stacked vertically, being removed in order of their appearance in the melody. Having framed each section with a mighty chord, Koh expands upon the material in a fantasia-like manner, with the motifs spilling forth like the confessions of a penitent sinner. The final chordal section depicts the majesty of God, and raises the question concluding the chorale’s first stanza—which sinner can stand before the righteousness of God (Psalms 130:3)?
If the ‘depths’ of the 130th Psalm (the basis for Koh’s piece) refer to one’s sorrow, then the opening octave of Ds in Wynne Fung’s Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der von uns den Gotteszorn wandte represents a different sort of depths–that of the lake of fire, wherein the unrepentant will be cast into at the Last Judgement. Starting slowly, a series of voices interact contrapuntally and rhythmically accelerate into a climax culminating in a freefall into the abyss. The milder sections that follow is suggestive of a congregation going to Communion (underpinning the Eucharistic theme that Luther had in mind), but Fung offers no final respite–a series of highly chromatic chords and the final arpeggiated chord indicate the approaching wrath of God.
Concluding this collection is Chen Zhangyi’s apocalyptic The Seven Angels, which depicts the eponymous beings as they blow trumpets and herald a horrific series of torments to be unleashed upon this world.
The First Angel, whose trumpet causes hail and fire mixed with blood to fall from the sky (Revelation 8:7), is depicted by dissonant chords and rapid scalar passages, while The Second Angel, whose trumpet causes a large flaming object (Revelation 8:8-9) to fall into the sea, is depicted through slower and more ominous harmonies concluded by an evocative pedal plunge. A burning star falling into the sea and rivers from heaven, ushered in by The Third Angel (Revelation 8:10-11), is represented by lightning-fast arpeggi, while the resultant bitterness of the water is represented by darker and murkier scales.
With The Fourth Angel comes the partial darkening of the heavenly bodies, (Revelation 8:12), depicted through the juxtaposition of three different passages: loud, bright chords depicting the sun, ethereal passages depicting the moon, and sparkling figurations depicting the stars. Likewise, The Fifth Angel (Revelation 9:1-11) also has different sections symbolising the impending calamity: after an initial descending passage representing a bottomless pit, a pedal solo symbolises its ominous gloom, while keyboard bisbigliandi symbolise the wings of the malevolent locust army emerging from within.
The Sixth Angel, a relatively larger multi-sectional work, catalogues the penultimate woes (Revelation 9:13-21): fast and murky passagework depict the river from which four afflicting angels are released, loud registration and pounding pedals describe the horsemen armies, and ethereal melancholic moments represent the aftermath of the resultant gratuitous brutality. Finally, The Seventh Angel announces the eternal reign of God and His Christ (Revelation 11:15), characterised by bursts of scalar passages and more consonant seventh-dominated harmonies that reflect the joy of the faithful and bring the whole cycle to a more optimistic end.