The Divine Song

for narrator and orchestra

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for narrator and orchestra

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Year of Composition 2008
Duration ca.37'
ISMN 9790570683604

Instrumentation Orchestra, Narrator
Categories (all composers)
Catalogue ID ce-ns1tds1


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This work was written to mark the 70th birthday of maestro Zubin Mehta, to whom it is dedicated. It was commissioned by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. As it happens, the premier of the work also marks my own 70th birthday year.

The work is a setting for a narrator and orchestra of the first two chapters of the Bhagavada Gita, or Divine Song. The Bhagavad Gita is part of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata which contains over 110,000 verses.

The two chapters in question expound the theory of Atman (Self), Re-incarnation and Dharma (Duty), fundamental aspects of all Indian-based philosophies or religions.

The setting is a battlefield where two opposing armies, the Kauravas and the Pandavas are about to begin battle. The Kauravas and Pandavas are cousins, as their fathers are brothers. The Pandavas have been denied their rightful share of the kingdom. Many failed attempts at a peaceful resolution have brought both sides to the brink of war.

Arjun is the commander in chief of the Pandavas and his charioteer is Lord Krishna, the Preserver of the Universe (Vishnu). Arjun asks Lord Krishna to take him to the centre of the battlefield so that he can get a good look at his adversaries. All he sees though, are his kith and kin arrayed against him. He is horrified. He refuses to kill them, and states that nothing in the world could possibly be a good enough compensation for losing them. Lord Krishna urges him to do his duty, which is to fight injustice, and explains the nature of things as they are, and not as he thinks they are.

Although the extended dialogue between warrior and charioteer is set starkly against the context of war, with many modern-day resonances, this is a parable about the nature of duty as it confronts us in our everyday lives, and the importance of making the right and honourable choice when faced with difficult decisions.

Although the work is not an opera, the music reflects an operatic style of treatment. There are three basic themes: the first relates to war, the second identifies Arjun and the third Lord Krishna. The first theme is free in tonality or modality. The second theme is in a Phrygian (Bhairavi) mode and the third one is in a Double Harmonic mode (Bhairav).

Structurally the piece is in shape of two arches. The conch shell is blown to start the proceedings. Then follows battle music – Arjun’s dilemma – battle music – Lord Krishna’s discourse and battle music again.  The conch shell is blown once more to end the piece.