The Persistence of Time (2009)
Instrumentation: Orchestra 3-3-3-3, 4-3-3-1, timpani, 3 percussion, harp, piano, and strings
Commissioned by the Chelsea Symphony
Ankush Kumar Bahl, Conductor
I began working on The Persistence of Time in August of 2005. Originally I had intended to write a programmatic piece for orchestra, based on Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. However, half way through the composition, I felt stuck and was not sure where the piece was going. A day later, I was thinking about a live performance I then attended of the fifth movement from Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the end of time (“In praise of the eternity of Jesus”), and discovered that the two works have often been linked together. For instance, Dali’s Persistence represents the illusion of time, while Messiaen’s Quartet refers to The Revelation of St. John, chapter 10, dedicated to the angel “who lifts his hand towards the heaven saying, ‘There shall be no more time.’” I decided that the piece would pay an hommage to the composer himself.
The Persistence of Time is in A B A form. The piece begins with a simple foreground melody in the flute(s), which is the main theme of the piece. This motive represents the “melting watches” in Dali’s painting, as the melody ascends before arriving at a static conclusion. In addition, it is also juxtaposed with descending chromatic clusters in the strings, also representing the melting watches. The theme is further restated in a lyrical augmented form by the violins, before coming to a full textural climax. The section then introduces an energetic orchestral fanfare before closing with echoes of the theme.
The B section begins with a haunting chordal progression from the fifth movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time (“In praise of the eternity of Jesus”) and the descending clusters heard earlier in the piece. This section depicts the dream-like state associated with the notion of time found in Dali’s painting. These two ideas form a dialogue between different groups of the orchestra, supported by a variation of the main theme in the English horn and clarinet. A new theme is introduced in two solo violins. The texture then slowly builds into a pulsating, ostinato climax before coming to a complete halt.
The opening melody returns, once again played by a solo flute. The texture changes into a set of variations and colorful ornaments of the main theme before the piano enters as an imitative ostinato taken from the eighth and final movement of Quartet for the End of Time (“In praise of the immortality of Jesus”). As this hommage to Messiaen is carried out by the piano, the chordal progression from the quartet’s fifth movement serves as a pedal point for a canonic texture (the lyrical material from the exposition) in the violins. Echoes of the first theme are heard from the clarinets combined with two solo violins playing a repeated variation of the second theme. The piece closes with a gradual decrescendo of an E major chord in the lower strings against the piano ostinato E (add 6) chord, which is associated with the ending of Messiaen’s eighth movement. Quoting Messiaen’s conclusion, The Persistence of Time fades off into an eternal distance as we are reminded that an ethereal concept of time is far above any mortal’s interpretation.
–The Persistence of Time received honorable mention from the 2015 American Prize in Orchestral Composition.