Tethys for violin and ensemble

Recording of premiere performance by Miranda Cuckson and counter)induction.
3 June, 2016. Tenri Cultural Institute New York, NY.

The many violent foldings of the Tertiary era took place at the expense of this very ancient Mediterranean, much larger than the present one. All the mountains, from the Baetic Cordillera to the Rif, the Atlas, the Alps and the Apennines, the Balkans, the Taurus and the Caucasus, were heaved up out of the ancient sea. They reduced its area, raising from the great sea bed not only sedimentary rocks-sands, clays, sandstones, thick layers of limestone-but also deeply buried primitive rocks. The mountains surrounding, strangling, barricading and compartmentalizing the long Mediterranean coastline are the flesh and bones of the ancestral Tethys. Everywhere the sea water has left traces of its slow labour. The sedimentary limestones outside Cairo, "so fine-grained and of such milky whiteness that they allow the sculptor's chisel to give the sensation of volume by working to a depth of only a few millimetres"; the great slabs of coraline limestone from which the megalithic temples in Malta were built; the stone of Segovia which is easier to work when wet; the limestone of the Latomies (the huge quarries of Syracuse); the Istrian stones of Venice and many other rock formations in Greece, Italy and Sicily-all these came from the sea bed.

Fernand Braudel Memory and The Mediterranean

"Statues so thoroughly shattered that out of the debris a new work of art is born: a naked foot unforgettably resting on a stone; a candid hand; a bent knee which contains all the speed of the footrace; a torso which has no face to prevent us from loving it ...a profile in which beauty survives with a complete absence of human or divine anecdote"

Margerite Yourcenar, That mighty sculptor, time


Tethys is a peculiar mythic figure; sister and consort of Oceanus, her position in the mythic structure of ancient Greece and Rome assigns her tremendous power, reordering the stars and constellations, and giving birth to rivers and lakes as well as the sea nymphs. And yet, she never inspired the development of any cult in the ancient world, or any trace of worship. A forgotten member of the elder divinities, she remains as an often invisible yet extraordinarily powerful presence– like the forces of deep time, she is slippery, omnipresent and often invisible within the human time frame. In the modern, she presides over new matters and regions while maintaining the link to deep time and the transcendent; she is the metonymic (and matronymic) of one of Saturn's moons and is the name given to the sea which existed between the continents of Gondwana and Laurasia during much of the Mesozoic era (25 to 65 million years ago).

It is this later trajectory which interested me while look for a framework for composing a concertino for violin and ensemble. The Tethys Sea, over its aeons years of existence was site of both the constructive and ruinous forces of nature and time; it was the site of the evolution of the whale, and the origin of the modern Mediterranean, and its destruction and fragmentation can be found in the floors of the Mediterranean, Black, Caspian, and Aral seas. Geologic time is always undermining the order of the present, but it is also the means by which new orders are composed.

This resonates with my interest in the special role that a soloist can have on the unfolding of a piece; transforming material, but also the relationships between performers, and the sense of the performance space experienced by the audience. In Tethys the soloist couples and decouples from three distinct groupings of instruments, pushing and pulling harmonies and motives, but also forming connections which pull the music across the space of the performance.

The work was written for violinist Miranda Cuckson, and counter)induction,