Guest Composer: “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci”

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Guest Composer: “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci”

Hagen was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's sketches and ideas in his notebooks.

Hagen was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's sketches and ideas in his notebooks.

Photo courtesy of jocelynhagen.com

Hagen was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's sketches and ideas in his notebooks.

Photo courtesy of jocelynhagen.com

Photo courtesy of jocelynhagen.com

Hagen was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's sketches and ideas in his notebooks.

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Minnesota-based composer Jocelyn Hagen gave a lecture on her work “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” on Oct. 24 in Olin 102. “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” is a multimedia symphony that features a choir, an orchestra, and video projections. Collegiate Choir, Decorah Chorale, and select orchestral musicians from Luther’s faculty, students, staff, and community members will perform the work on Nov. 3.

Associate Professor of Music Jennaya Robison explained that Hagen had emailed her in search of consortium members to fund a project based on Leonardo da Vinci’s work. Robison began a search for funding by applying for a faculty development grant, and she also secured funding through the Lecture and Fine Arts series and from a contribution by an anonymous donor.

Robison was drawn to this piece because of its multimedia properties. In most instances in which an orchestra plays along with a movie, the conductor keeps time according to the speed of the movie. In this performance, with the use of a new software, the video operator will be able to change the movie according to Robison’s conducting.

“With this movie, the video operator changes the movie based on what I do, so the video operator actually sits in the orchestra,” Robison said. “I just thought that it was really cool, and Luther hasn’t done anything like this before.”

This new software was created by Ion Concert Media and is called MUSÉIK. The software allows for conductors and performers to be more expressive in their performance. After hearing about the development of this software and seeing an exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art featuring da Vinci’s Codex Leicester in 2016, Hagen was inspired.

Kieran Benson (’23) Chips
Hagen lectured on her multimedia symphony.

“As audience members, we are conditioned to expect a certain relationship between music and film,” Hagen said. “We know how powerful a visual experience can be when it is supported by appropriate sounds that heighten our emotions at exactly the right moment.”

During the lecture, Hagen played excerpts from the nine-movement symphony and explained how she wrote the music to express certain ideas from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. She wanted to impact the audience with appropriate combinations of visuals, text, and sound.

“It wasn’t just handwriting in all those notebook pages,” Hagan said. “He made lots of sketches. I was amazed to discover how much he studied the angle of light and the perception of an object. His notebook pages are filled with geometry, perfect circles, straight lines, and I thought, how do I represent that musically?”

Robison believes that performing this piece is educationally and creatively valuable for the ensembles involved. Hagen’s music is difficult and very rhythmic. “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” includes text about mathematical ratios and measurements, such as in the movement titled “The Vitruvian Man,” and Robison said that Hagen did well at incorporating text which choirs might not usually sing.

“It is music that really serves the text,” Robison said. “A lot of times you will take a great piece of text and squish it to fit the musical structure, but she doesn’t do that. The music serves how the text should be presented so that it makes sense.”

Bringing Hagen to campus fit with one of Robison’s goals for the 2019-2020 academic year, which is to program more works by female composers. Hagen and her husband, Timothy C. Takach, own a publishing agency named Graphite Publishing, which recently started an initiative called “Compose Like A Girl” to promote representation of women in music composition.

“Over half of our ensemble members at Luther College are women and about half of our orchestral musicians are women, yet this is the first time we have ever programmed an oratorio that is by a woman,” Robison said. “We look at the amount of music majors at Luther and women are so strongly represented in that, yet we don’t have a lot of women who are composing. I think that a lot of times we venture into career paths where we see ourselves mirrored in other people and I think women need to see that.”

Collegiate Chorale member Emily Stifter (‘20) said that hearing the lecture will help her to create a better performance in the concert on Nov. 3.

“It’s very interesting to get the background on how it came together, and how she wrote it, and what she had in mind,” Stifter said. “It helps make it more engaging as a performer.” Hagen mentioned that the last movement, “Look at the Stars,” helps create a sense of optimism. While she was writing this symphony, she was also writing a piece based on the poetry of women in Afghanistan. She said it was a dark and emotional time for her and this music helped her to celebrate beauty.

“This whole piece for me is really is about the power of human creativity and the amazing things that humanity is capable of,” Hagen said.

The performance of “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” will take place on Nov. 3 at 4 p.m. in the Center for Faith and Life.

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