The Grigori (2020)
International 2020 Composition Contest
For harp and percussion
The Dead Sea scrolls are a set of ancient Jewish religious manuscripts which were found in the Qumran Caves on the northern shore of the Dead Sea, significant for their inclusion of the second- oldest surviving manuscripts of works that were later incorporated into the Hebrew Bible canon. The scrolls contain books that most present-day judeo-christians prescribe to or are familiar with, such as Psalms, Genesis, and Deuteronomy. Another thirty percent of the scrolls, however, are made up of texts that were ultimately not canonized in the Hebrew bible, the most fascinating of which might be the Book of Enoch.
This book is ascribed to the man Enoch, the great-grandfather of the ark-builder Noah. Of particular interest within the book of Enoch is the Book of Watchers, which dates to approx. 300 BCE. The Watchers (or Grigori, as they are called in the later Jewish pseudepigraphon Second Book of Enoch) are a group of angels who rebel against God and descend onto Earth. Here, they take human women as wives, and these angel-human offspring grow to become the giants mentioned in Genesis 6:4, otherwise called the Nephilim. The Grigori were also responsible for teaching mankind how to create weapons of war, cosmetics, and jewelry, allegedly feeding into man kind’s wrath and vanity. Eventually, after enough of this corruption and violence, the leader of the Grigori, Azazel, was “bound hand and foot” and cast into Dudael, a place of imprisonment where he was to be kept until the day of the great judgement. The actions of the Grigori give context as to why the Great Flood was morally necessary, and once the rest of Azazel’s associates were imprisoned, God purified the earth through forty days and forty nights of rainfall to undo the damage done by the fallen angels.
This composition aims to programatically depict a collection of events from this historic text. Fall and Rebellion opens with feverous repeated notes in the harp (achieved by tuning adjacent pitches to be enharmonically equivalent). Timberaly, the harp has moments in this movement where it is meant to sound like an oud or lute, and when coupled with the doumbek, produce a sound somewhat similar to instruments that may have existed around the time the Book of Enoch was written, though playing wholly contemporary music. And just as the Grigori needed to be clever enough to outwit Yahweh to travel to and stay on Earth, the performers must be clever enough to make it through the gauntlet of time signature changes and challenging rhythms that riddle the movement. The second movement, Son of God, Daughter of Man, serves as a depiction of a love story between one of the Grigori and a human woman, with the title coming from the passage "the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose." in Genesis 6:1-2. The term "Son of God" here is not to be confused with Jesus of Nazareth, but rather comes from the Hebrew "bene elohim" refering specifically to the Enochic fallen angels. The music attempts to capture the sense of yearning that the angel and the woman have to be with one another, sharply juxtaposed against their knowledge that the union is wholly forbidden, and as the piece slows over time, the two submit to the love they have for each other and accept the other’s embrace as the work fades out. Lastly, the final movement Flood begins with the harp in its lowest register, with the bass drum using extended techniques to create spindly sounds reminiscent of rainfall and thunder. This opening has a feel of an extremely slow march, perhaps evoking the feeling of the approach to Dudael, but the work picks up shortly after, restating portions of the first movement before reaching the most climactic portion of the whole composition. As the last of the Grigori’s influence is washed clean from the earth, the musicians restate the main theme from the second movement, with the harpist in their most extreme registers playing their thickest chords, and the percussionist utilizing multiple instruments at once.