Mnemosis - George E. Lewis Międzynarodowy Festiwal Muzyki Współczesnej Warszawska Jesień

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Written for Talea Ensemble, Mnemosis draws inspiration from concepts in Western philosophy. First, we have Friedrich Nietzsche’s classic 1882 conception of the eternal recurrence in La gaya scienza

What if some day or night a demon were to steal into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence...” Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? 

On one view, the demon’s visit exempli es one of European history’s most terrifying myths: the fate of King Sisyphus, whom the gods punish by compelling him to push an enormous boulder up a hill, only to see it roll down again—a task he was doomed to repeat endlessly, throughout eternity. 

A subliminal version of this narrative may well shed light on the aversion some have to repetitive, minimalist, or process musics, and/or their Indonesian, African, and Afrodiasporic fellow travellers; all of these elements inform Mnemosis in various ways. But we can turn to the affirmative side of the gift offered by Nietzsche’s demon: “Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine!’” 

The condition of the eternal recurrence leads to the second source of inspiration for Mnemosis, proposition 6.4311 of Wittgenstein’s 1921 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “If by eternity is understood not endless temporal duration but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present.” 

The implication in both cases treats history, memory and experience as existentially recursive, allowing progress to coexist with stasis. This apparent paradox threatens to recur eternally in my creative work, and this is the sense in which I hope listeners can encounter this piece. 

George E. Lewis