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string quartet
Year composed:
21 mins
220x305, pp36, saddle-stapled

While the human brain is capable of remarkable feats of comprehension, it has trouble conceiving of its own death. Human culture therefore overflows with stories about the afterworld, imagining in great detail the textures and landscapes of what the soul experiences after it has departed its body. Afterworlds may be light, dark, watery, icy, misty, found in the clouds, the earth, the sun or the moon. They may be places of peace and redemption, or violence and damnation. Exitus is based on the evocation of four very different afterworlds from around the world.

I. Quidlivun (‘The Land of the Moon’)

In Inuit mythology, spirits who maintained a virtuous life are taken to Quidlivun, the Land of the Moon, where they find eternal rest.

II. Xibalbá (‘The Place of Fear’)

Xibalbá is the name of the Mayan underworld, roughly translating as ‘place of fear’. Souls who walked the road to the subterranean Xibalbá are faced by tribulations such as rivers of blood and pus, and once there, are faced with deadly trials by darkness, cold, fire, razor blades, hungry jaguars and shrieking bats.

III. Niflheim (‘The House of Mists’)

In Norse mythology, Niflheim is a far northern region of icy fogs and mists, darkness and cold. It is situated on the lowest level of the universe, underneath the third root of Yggdrasil, the world tree. An old Norse hymn tune, ‘Med Jesus vil eg fara’ (With Jesus I will journey), is played almost inaudibly by violins and viola, above which the cello traces thin, delicate keenings.

IV. Oka Lusa Hacha (‘Black Water River’)

In the afterworld myths of the Choctaw tribe of Native Americans, the soul heads down a long road to the East in search of the good hunting grounds, and faces a trial by crossing a log over the great, gushing Black Water River.

Exitus was first performed by the New Zealand String Quartet at the Adam Chamber Festival, Nelson, in January 2009.

It is recorded by the New Zealand String Quartet on Notes from a Journey (Atoll acd-118).