Eikon is a work in three movements specially commissioned by the Maynooth University Music Department. The three-movement work is of 20 minutes duration. It was premiered opn the 11th of May, 2014, by the Maynooth University Chamber Choir--conducted by Michael Dawson--and featured Catriona Frost (percussion), Denise Kelly-McDonnell (harp), Sébastien Petiet (violin), Anne Phelan (violin), Feargal Ó Dornáin (viola), Yue Tang (violoncello), and David Grealy (organ) at St Patrick’s Chapel, Maynooth, Co. Kildare.
No recording is presently available but the computer playback for each of the three movements is provided.
Above and below, Michael Dawson and the Maynooth University Chamber Choir for whom the piece was written. Here they are winning two Golds at the Interkultur at Canta en Primavera 2014 in Malaga.
The commission brief was to write a piece for choir and instruments on the theme of ‘icons’. I chose for a central text the following short passage from Colossians 1:15. ‘The Son is the image of the invisible God.’ Though this constitutes the material for the second movement of the work, this programme note will profit from discussing it first as it forms the central idea around which the other two movements revolve. The word ‘image’ is the common translation from the original Greek word ‘eikon’. This Greek word may also be translated as ‘icon’. This passage from Colossians communicates that the Invisible became incarnate and that the Son is an icon representing the unseen God. I dissected the original Greek version of the verse (along with its Latin and English translations) into its constituent syllables and phonemes. These are pasted together into a hybrid, meaningless tongue. Over the course of the movement the words gradually reassemble and semantic meaning becomes clear once more; clarity emerging from the unintelligible in a sonic analogy of the Word becoming flesh, of the Son as the image of the invisible God.
The first and third movements are designed to illustrate the importance of the phenomenon documented and described in the second movement, the Son as an icon and the invisible made visible.
The first movement is titled ‘Yir’Ah’ which is the Hebrew word for ‘fear’. The text describes Old Testament encounters between God and his people. His voice comes to them in a cloud and they cower in fear. Regardless of what God had to say to them their attitude was one of terror, perhaps this barrier between God and man is at its most heartbreakingly clear when the people beg Moses to intercede between God and them so that they might vicariously hear God’s message. ‘And they said unto Moses, speak thou with us and we will hear: but let not God speak with us,lest we die.’
The narrative I would like to suggest is set in place by considering such a relationship in the context of the Son as an icon, of the invisible made tangible. To clarify and complete the narrative direction we may now discuss the third movement, As He was Praying. This final movement describes the Transfiguration, where Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant upon a mountain in the presence of disciples. The prophets Moses and Elijah appear next to Jesus and speak to Him and then a voice comes out of the cloud. The voice says, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ It is a glorious and triumphant episode and yet the reaction of the disciples is one of fear, entirely incongruous with the moment and yet consistent with their ancestry. The parallels with the events recounted in the first movement are obvious: once more God comes as a voice from the cloud and the people are too terrified to listen. However, now the Eikon is present. The Son is the image of the invisible God, no longer just a disembodied voice on high. Jesus comes to the disciples and physically touches them; the icon touches man and says, ‘Arise and be not afraid.’
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