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Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco

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Spectrum of the tenor bell at Winchester Cathedral as analyzed by Jonathan Harvey using FFT.[1] Play approximation

Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco ("I Mourn the Dead, I Call the Living") for eight-track tape is a musical composition created in 1980 by Jonathan Harvey, with the assistance of Stanley Haynes and Xavier Rodet,[2] commissioned by the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The two sounds contrasted are the tenor bell at Winchester Cathedral, England and the voice of the composer's son Dominic, at the time a chorister there, both recorded by John Whiting. The text is taken from that written on the bell: Horas Avolantes Numero, Mortuos Plango: Vivos ad Preces Voco ("I count the fleeing hours, I lament the dead: the living I call to prayer").[3] Music V was used to analyze and transform the sounds.

The music is 'octophonic', being projected into the auditorium through a cube of eight channels: "the ideal listener is 'inside' the bell, its partials distributed in space; the boy's voice flies around, derived from, yet becoming the bell sound."[4] "The eight sections are based on one of the principal eight lowest partials. Chords are constructed from the repertoire of thirty-three partials [of the bell], and modulations from one area of the spectrum to another are achieved by means of glissandi."[5]

The bell's spectrum, though on C, contains F harmonic series partials, "'to curiously thrilling and disturbing effect.'"[6] "Such 'unanalyzable' secondary strike notes are quite common in bells."[3]

The organization of the piece, "modulating 'from a bigger bell to a smaller bell,'" may, "be interpreted in a number of ways:"[6]

  1. "as a quasi-tonal procedure" ["hierarchies analogous to (but distinct from) the traditional western tonal system."][3]
  2. "as an attempt to transfer serial processes to electronic music"
  3. "as a 'prolongation' of the initial inharmonic series"
  4. "'as different perspectives on an object that is always present'" per Michael Clarke

According to Curtis Roads, "Three compositions produced in the 1980s stand as good examples of compositional manipulation of analysis data: Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco (1981) [sic] by Jonathan Harvey, Désintegrations (1983, Salabert Trajectoires) by Tristan Murail, and Digital Moonscapes (1985, CBS/Sony) by Wendy Carlos."[7] Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco is notable both within and without Harvey's career: "it showed the [IRCAM] institute's apparently esoteric research programme could yield music capable of appealing to a wider audience,"[6] and it "continues the process, established in the String Quartet, of initiating a work with the detailed investigation of a single sound—in this case the Winchester bell. The crucial difference is that whereas the open D string used as the basis of the earlier work may be heard as a harmonic series, the bell produces a spectrum of partials not harmonically related to one another or to the fundamental c."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roads, Curtis, ed. (1992). Harvey Jonathan. "Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco: A Realization at IRCAM", The Music Machine, p.92. ISBN 978-0-262-68078-3.
  2. ^ Machover, Tod (1984). Musical thought at IRCAM, Volume 1, p.111. ISBN 978-3-7186-0272-8.
  3. ^ a b c Roads, ed. (1992). Harvey, p.91.
  4. ^ Emmerson, Simon (2007). Living Electronic Music, p.157. ISBN 978-0-7546-5548-0.
  5. ^ Manning, Peter (2004). Electronic and Computer Music, p.201. ISBN 978-0-19-514484-0.
  6. ^ a b c d Downes, Michael (2009). Jonathan Harvey: Song offerings and White as jasmine, p.22. ISBN 978-0-7546-6022-4. Quotes Harvey 1986c, p.181 and Whittall 1999, p.27.
  7. ^ Roads, Curtis (1996). The Computer Music Tutorial, p.146. ISBN 978-0-262-68082-0.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bossis, Bruno. 2004. "Mortuos plango, vivos voco de Jonathan Harvey ou le miroir de la spiritualité". Musurgia: Analyse et pratique musicales 11, nos. 1–2:119–44.
  • Clarke, Michael. 2006. "Jonathan Harvey's Mortuos plango, vivos voco". In Analytical Methods of Electroacoustic Music, edited by Mary Simoni, 111–43. Studies on New Music Research. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Georgakī, Anastasia [Γεωργάκη, Αναστασία]. 2004. "Η μεταφυσική διάσταση της συνθετικής τραγουδιστής φωνής στο έργο Mortuos Plango-Vivos Voco (J. Harvey, 1980)". Πολυφωνία [Polifonia], no. 4: (Spring): 58–74.
  • Harvey, Jonathan. 1981. "Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco: A Realization at IRCAM". Computer Music Journal 5, no. 4 (Winter): 22–24.
  • Metzer, David Joel. 2009. Musical Modernism at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century. Music in the Twentieth Century 26. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-51779-9.
  • Palmer, John. 2018. "Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco by Jonathan Harvey. An aural score, analysis and discussion". '008-MA, 009-MP, 0010-MP. Vision Edition. ISBN 978-0-9931761-3-5. ISMN: 979-0-9002315-4-3, 979-0-9002315-5-0.'
  • Tutschku, Hans. 1999. "L'application des paramètres compositionnels au traitement sonore". PhD diss. Paris: Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV): École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.

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