Prism of Life (for orchestra) was composed in 1980 and 1981 and is approximately nineteen-minutes in length. Prism of Life is in seven sections played as one continuous movement. The impetus for the piece was these original words of poetry:
The stillness and calm of the Light is
When blocked, Man is alone.
The sudden calamities, shocks and
tragedies of life bring about colors
These colors are just as brilliant as
the Light, but different.
At such times, the Light often emerges
With this, stillness is restored and Man is
united with the Giver of Light.
Section one, in 7/4 time, has as its foundation a low, pulsating, single-note ostinato on the pitch “E.” Wherever this pitch occurs during the composition, it is symbolic of the Light. Very soft melodic lines are spun canonically in the violins throughout this first section and these lines are constantly colored by the other instruments of the orchestra.
Section two is for percussion, harp, piano and voices of the non-playing instrumentalists. The Sprechstimme (i.e. “sung speech”) is on the word “wilderness” – a key to the conveyance of this section’s musical “affekt” of the void created when “Man is alone.”
Like “sudden calamities, shocks and tragedies of life,” section three enters unexpectedly and with great driving force. This section leads to the horrendous and climactic fourth section, characterized by uncontrolled chaos. The aural impression here is aleatoric (meaning, “at random”). However, all pitches and rhythms are notated.
Out of the chaos of section four, section five emerges. This section, symbolizing hope, enters in the form of an expansive diatonic hymn (played by the horns and low brass) and emerges from the active, dissonant, maze-like texture.
Reflecting the opening section, section six emerges in 7/8 time with the pulsating “E” now in the higher register and played by the flutes. Melodic material reflecting section one is heard in the woodwinds and is colored by high harmonics in the strings and other instruments.
A slowing of the pulsating “E” (now in the horns) creates a bridge to the seventh (and final) section. The original hymn of section four returns in the woodwinds. Above and below the hymn until the end of the piece, the high strings sustain the pitch that holds the “world” of Prism of Life together: “E.”
Binghamton, New York