It’s been decided. My new song/s, the soundtrack to my very existence were we all to be blessed by our own personal choirs and orchestras shadowing our every motion as we live our lives, is Karl Jenkins’s “Chorale VI (Sol-Fa)/Cantus – Song of Aeolus” from his 1996 (1997?) album Adiemus II – Cantata Mundi. Now all I have to do is make my life worthy of this magnificence.
I’m a big Karl Jenkins fan – I mean to blog about the music I find best to play while writing fantasy, and he will certainly make a resounding appearance in that blog. I love his ingenious, unique Requiem, and have owned his Songs of Sanctuary album featuring the original Adiemus for many years. I’d heard of his releasing other Adiemus albums, but had never seen them in shops. The other week I bought Adiemus II (Cantata Mundi), III (Dances of Time), and IV (The Eternal Knot) on a whim, finding them cheap ($8.99 each) in Australia’s iTunes store. While each album is nothing short of an absolute pleasure to listen to, each with its own stand-out tracks (I can’t get enough of “St Declan’s Drone” on Adiemus IV), for me, there is something special about Sol-Fa and Song of Aeolus, the Chorale and Cantus presented together as a single track.
I’m listening to it again now (on repeat), hoping it will help me better explain what makes this track so exceptional.
As with all Adiemus songs the vocals are female, and the chorale (which takes about the first two minutes of the track) begins in unison and a capella, a simple melody with a recurring theme sung in sol-fa (as the name suggests). Then the voices separate into two and the chorale continues in canon, the voices washing over and into each other, totally separate yet blending strangely in the ears, creating a gentle, beautifully soaring experience that is both secretive and also a little eerie. I’ve come across only one other song that gives me the same shivers, a section of a choral piece called “Links” (I can’t find an actual recording online, sorry) by Matthew Orlovich in which the sopranos drift above the driving, earthy chants of the altos, tenors, and basses. What I think of when I hear that and when I hear the Sol-fa chorale is the same: they float like wind in a desert night.
A brief interlude follows to join the chorale and cantus, taking (if what I can hear is right) three parts and singing together, continuing unaccompanied and finishing bright and major, swelling into the chord.
Then, the track explodes.
Percussion begins and tribal-esque chanting soon leads into a theme so powerful and wonderful if I’m not careful I find myself grinning savagely, wherever I am, as soon as it begins. Unlike the original Songs of Sanctury in which the vocals were accompanied by strings, a full orchestra superbly backs this cantus and often takes the spotlight with its own driving sounds as the vocals take a much needed opportunity to recover before bursting back into existence. Multiple verses of varying chants often accompanied only by basic percussion are positioned between the recurrence of the theme and orchestral moments, their lengths by no means standard, surprising with their unexpected timing and segways.
With a minute remaining, Jenkins repeats the sol-fa chorale at a much faster tempo. Here it is no longer gentle and drifting like an Angel’s chorus, but urgent and determined, seeming more earth-bound to me despite the piece’s name, a momentary landing before it again takes off in a final moving blast of the theme. The cantus ends with a note that would go on for all time but for the ringing clash that heralds the end.
I may have gotten carried away, but I won’t apologise for it. Karl Jenkins is a spectacularly talented composer, Chorale VI (Sol-Fa)/Cantus – Song of Aeolus an example of his work that stands out the most to me and provides wonderful inspiration when writing. I urge you, if you are unfamiliar with his work and write fantasy (or even if you don’t), please look into him a little more and keep an eye out for his albums.
This link here is not the complete version of the track (I think it skips the canon in the chorale, which is devastating), but it does have a fun music video featuring scenes from the film “Serenity.”