Reimagining old Hispanic melisma

Efthymiou, Litha (2017) Reimagining old Hispanic melisma. [Project]

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Item Type:Project
Item Status:Live Archive


The works that form the body of this research include:

• 'Moments Held' for orchestra (2017)
• 'Iberian Refractions' for 2 violins (2017)
• 'Present Shadows' for flute, clarinet, piano, cello and double bass (2016/2017)
• 'Tread Softy' for string quartet (2015)

This body of research engages with the practice of melisma in the extant manuscripts of medieval Spain and asks the question: how can the purpose and sound of Old Hispanic (OH) melisma, which is irrevocably lost, be recaptured in a modern idiom?

The neume shapes that make up the repertory of OH chant (c. 500-1080) provide basic detail about the music’s melodic contour, but any rhythmic material and the pitches themselves remain unknown. By looking at the neume shapes in connection to the words they underpin, however, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of the music and the role it played in religious worship. Close analysis of the number of notes sung to each syllable reveals the use of unusually long melismatic passages (extending to 200 notes or more), providing crucial information about the music’s melodic pacing. As temporal awareness fades into the background when long melisma unfolds – due to the halting of the natural flow of text – OH melisma promotes a stable grounding in the present moment. This static quality chimes with late antique thought on spirituality – which connects notions of the present to spiritual transcendence. The compositional devices used in each piece aim to evoke a sense of OH melisma’s static quality, recapturing something of its spiritual and aesthetic space for a modern, secular audience.

Research Outputs:

Litha Efthymiou, Tread Softly, Oxford: Edition HH, 2015.
Litha Efthymiou, Iberian Refractions, Oxford: Edition HH, 2017.


'Tread Softly':
• Performed by the Bristol Ensemble at Bristol St. George’s (2015), Hauser and Wirth Museum in Somerset (2015), Royal West of England Academy in Bristol (2015).
• Performed by the Manon quartet at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room (2015).

'Iberian Refractions':
• Performed by the Bristol Ensemble at Bristol St. George's, Bristol, 2014

'Present Shadows':
• Performed by Ensemble Variances at Victoria Rooms, Bristol, 2016

'Moments Held':
• Performed by the University of Bristol’s symphony orchestra at Victoria Rooms, Bristol, 2017

Quality Indicators:

Connected research project: ERC funded ‘Old Hispanic Office’ project at the University of Bristol (2013-2017)
Commissions: Commission by New Music Southwest (for Tread Softly and Iberian Refractions)

Keywords:Contemporary Music, Melisma, Old Hispanic Office
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W300 Music
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Performing Arts)
Relation typeTarget identifier
ID Code:29931
Deposited On:15 Dec 2017 15:00

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