Tonight’s premiere live performance of The Abacus And The Rose is a very special occasion for me. Although my entire professional career has been related to the fields of science and engineering, I have always had a deep passion for music (especially classical) and over the years have been involved in a good number of musical projects on the side.
The four songs that make up this cycle were written between 1976 and 1982 and the manuscripts have been stored away in a box ever since. This summer I pulled them out of storage and began working with two of the most extraordinarily talented classical musicians I have ever known—soprano Merissa Coleman and pianist Alexandre Marr—both members of Singers Companye who will present the songs at tonight’s concert. I want to thank Merissa and Alexandre for their extreme dedication to preparing an exquisite performance of The Abacus And The Rose that far exceeded my expectations.
I also want to thank Dr. Samuel Gordon, director of Singers Companye, who, after hearing the songs, graciously proposed placing the premiere performance on one of his wonderful choral group’s concerts.
Visit https://abacus-rose.com/ for more information.
Jacob Bronowski is probably best remembered today for his classic 13-part television series, The Ascent Of Man, produced and originally broadcast by the BBC (1973) and soon after on public television in The United States. The Ascent Of Man was a brilliant, insightful and passionate look at the history of science and its close relationship to the arts.
Bronowski was born in Poland in 1908 and during childhood his family moved first to Germany and then to England where he was educated in mathematics and biology. In later years (1964), he moved to California and became a Resident Fellow of the Salk Institute at the invitation of its founder, Jonas Salk, developer of the first safe and effective polio vaccine. Bronowski died at the age of 66 in 1974, less than a year after completing The Ascent Of Man. Although he had a long and distinguished career as a scientist, Bronowski also had a deep interest in the arts, especially poetry, which resulted in a significant collection of poems, most of which are unpublished.
The premiere live performance of these songs is taking place on a Christmas concert, but it is purely by coincidence that each of the four poems are related to the holiday. For many years, Bronowski and his artist wife, Rita, created custom Christmas cards with his poems and her artwork that were sent to friends and associates. The first three songs are based on poems that were written as Christmas cards and the fourth was also purely by coincidence written during the holiday as described in the notes below.
The voice of God that spoke and struck
Was the cuckoo in the clock.
The exiles in the garden heard
The engine tremble in the bird,
Sobbing throat and iron bill:
Time on his springy wheel stood still.
Time began and time runs down.
The voices in the garden drown.
No God from his machine unhands
The exile with a mouth of sand.
The clockwork cuckoo on the hill,
Abrupt and wheeling, stoops to kill.
Jupiter and Saturn played
The age was broken and re-made.
A rocket rose from Bethlehem.
Christ marched with the Orangemen;
Till, diving the exploding light
Struck today and charred it white.
The rocket roars and plunges out.
Saturn and Jupiter turn about.
No child again shall put to shame
The gunsights trained on Bethlehem;
While ice-cap omen, march to birth
The orbit of the screaming earth.
I, having built a house, reject
The feud of eye and intellect,
And find in my experience proof,
One pleasure runs from root to roof,
One thrust along a streamline arches
The sudden star, the budding larches.
The force that makes the winter grow
Its feathered hexagons of snow
And drives the bee to match at home,
Their calculated honeycomb,
Is abacus and rose combined.
An icy sweetness fills my mind,
A sense that under thing and wing,
Lies, taut yet living, coiled, the spring.
Faster than light and cold as absolute,
The edge of darkness races in pursuit
Of this expanding leaf, this Christmas tree
Of veins in which I hold the galaxy.
It is my hand, from which there streams and rips
The cosmic shift, red to the fingertips,
And what the flying shadow hunts is me.
Some astral bang, some primum mobile
Rocketed both of us, the headlong Bear
And me, into the incandescent air.
The motion that we share entails it all:
The virgin birth, the carol tune, the tall
Luminous star that prophesies—although
Its only secret is that children grow.
Faster than night and cold as Helium II,
The edge of shadow races to undo
The secret of creation, the abrupt
Choice of a womb or atom to erupt,
And what the flying darkness hunts is you.