Nestled mere miles from the Galician coast in northwestern Spain, the great cathedral of Santiago de Compostela has beckoned pilgrims to its porticos for centuries. From east to west, the ‘way of St. James‘ emerged along the Via Regia (the Royal Highway) from the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, through France, across the Pyrenees, into the lush, green, rolling hills of northern Spain. Outfitted with provisions that, of necessity, included the pilgrim’s staff and scallop shell, each traveler depended on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter along the way. At great personal cost and sacrifice, these who defined the quintessence of pilgrim and pilgrimage, assumed the perilous journey in anticipation of a needed miracle awaiting them at the great cathedral–the alleged resting place of the relics of St. James the Apostle. Among the mythologies surrounding Santiago de Compostela is the history of the name itself. One popular story suggests that the name ‘Compostela‘ is a conflation of two Latin words: “campus” (field) and “stellae” (star)–stemming from the legend that the light of a star guided searchers to the remains of the apostle buried in a field on the site of the cathedral.
Campus Stellae is inspired by a fictional pilgrim’s physical and spiritual journey along the trail. The first movement, entitled “Pilgrim,” imagines the plodding, weary steps endured hour after hour, day after day, week after week, toward the destination. A brief introduction is followed by a repeating harmonic cycle, or chaconne, in the piano. The clarinet begins slowly, yet as the journey advances, begins to soar and writhe in energetic and rhythmic exasperation. After a few cycles, excerpts of a liturgical chant melody from the Aquitaine region of southern France begin to emerge in the piano. Like a mantra, a ruminating thought to give comfort and focus the mind and heart in a time of physical strife, this melody may have been familiar to pilgrims having passed through France along the trail.
The second movement, “Fluvio Stellarum” (the river of stars), envisions the pilgrim drifting off to sleep beside the trail in a night of vivid dreaming beneath a canopy of stars. Invoking the mysterious and mystical aspects of this night, the piano creates a spacious texture occupying a nether-world between consonance and dissonance. The clarinet as protagonist drifts above and through these sonic clouds. Wistful and longing at first–perhaps recollecting past regrets–tensions melt away into a sparkling sweetness. Perhaps the promise of a redemption to come lures the dreamer deeper into sleep. As all dreams–even sweet ones–must end, so must those of the pilgrim. A brief reiteration of the movement’s opening harmonic strains conjures the dreamer from the spell.
“Angelus (spiritus a mari)” (Angel [spirit of the sea]), places the pilgrim at the edge of the Galician coast, beyond the original destination of the pilgrimage. Here at Finisterre (meaning “end of the earth”–dating from Roman times when it was believed to be the end of the known world) the pilgrim stands firm against the elements: salt water mist and wind batter the face and whip the hair into a fury; the thunder of the waves sends a shudder through the soul. Nevertheless, the protagonist, exultant and undeterred, communes with eternity in the form of an imagined angel emerging from the sea. Musically, the movement is boisterous, rhythmically angular, melodically disjunct, and robust. Set in a modified rondo form, a raucous iteration of the chaconne theme from the first movement anchors the surrounding gestures and textures. Explosive to the last, other memories of the trek surface–and subside–in due course.
- Ethan Wickman
Score and Parts Included: Eb Clarinet