Joel Järventausta’s 'Suns extinguished' is based on four chords, which the composer describes as the ‘canvas’ for his piece.
Tonally derived (including even that most well- known of gestures, a perfect cadence!) and inspired by Renaissance choral music, they are outlined by the double basses at the beginning of the piece and continue throughout as a sort of chorale. Järventausta’s metaphor of a canvas is apt, however, since the chords are very much a background presence; any structural rigidity their familiar shape might have offered is concealed behind a foreground screen of micro-tonal glissandi, woodwind breath tones and natural horn harmonics. Even the basses’ first statement of the chord cycle is given a silvery, wispy quality.
The work’s title is derived from a paragraph in Le système de la nature (1770) by the Enlightenment philosopher and encyclopedist Paul-Henri Thiry (Baron d’Holbach): ‘Suns are extinguished or become corrupted, planets perish and scatter across the wastes of the sky; other suns are kindled, new planets formed to make their revolutions or describe new orbits, and man, an infinitely minute part of a globe which itself is only an imperceptible point in the immense whole, believes that the universe is made for himself.’
It is therefore perhaps not fanciful to hear in Järventausta’s balance of structure and its dissolution both the universe’s eternal rotation and its inevitable collapse into stardust. As the opening textures build across the orchestra, they finally admit fragments of melody in the strings – a humble intrusion of infinitely minute man? – before the whole piece is recapitulated; condensed and compressed into a single page.
Programme note by Tim Rutherford-Johnson
Works for Orchestra or Large Ensemble Premiere
London Symphony Orchestra, François-Xavier Roth (workshop), March 25, 2019, LSO St. Luke's, London More
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