Apr 102016
 

Improbable Creatures from Physiologus: A Musical Bestiary

for Piano Solo
(Duration: 13:34)
Commissioned by Yao Lin (who thought she was joking)
Premiered December 1, 2015 by Yao Lin, New Music Maryland

Program Notes

Of the many ancient Bestiaries—that is, books concerning the natures of beasts—the first and greatest is by PHYSIOLOGUS. The creatures he and his successors describe are very seldom seen today. Some scholars judge them to be fabulous; others merely regard them as highly improbable.

  • The Caladrius is a pure white bird that attends the dying. If they can be healed, it will take their diseases and carry them off to the sun; if not, it will turn its face away.
  • The Manticore is a fearsome beast with the face of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion. It is a most unpleasant dinner guest, not least because you are likely to be the main entree.
  • The Cockatrice is rather like a serpent and rather like a rooster. It can kill you with a hiss, or a jet of fire from its mouth, or a withering glance, or any way it wants to, really.
  • The Hercinia is a bird with luminous wings. It flies through the forest at night to guide lost travellers—home, if they’re lucky. If not….
  • The Enormous Rabbit is commonly found around the house. The learned Mr. Thurber has observed, “It can be an uncrossed bridge which seems at first glance to have burned behind somebody, or it can be chickens counted too soon, or a ringing phone, or a thought in the night, or a faint hissing sound.”
  • Finally, the Griffin has the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and—you probably haven’t heard this yet—the soul of a minor poet.

Special thanks to Dr. Debby Harris and Dr. John Patrick Pazdziora for assistance identifying various beasties. —EP

 

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