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Michael Maier
La Fuga de Atalanta — 2007

Michael Maier's alchemical emblem book Atalanta Fugiens was first published in Latin in 1617. The book incorporated 50 emblems with a motto, an epigram and a discourse, but extended the concept of an emblem book by incorporating 50 pieces of music, the 'fugues' or canons. In this sense it was an early example of multimedia.

Ensemble Plus Ultra has recorded the fifty canons for Glossa, as part of a much larger project conceived by the bibliofile and publisher Jacobo Hernando Fitz-James Stuart y Gómez, 12th Earl Of Berwick and Duke of Alba.

The title Atalanta fugiens refers to the myth of the fleeing Atalanta, pursued by Hippomenes, and slowed down by the Golden Apples given to him by Venus.

There are many levels of symbolism within the music. The three voices represent

  1. Atalanta Fugiens ° the fleeing Atalanta
  2. Hippomenes Sequens ° the pursuing Hippomenes
  3. Pomum Morens ° the apples which delay the race and hinder the flight
and also the alchemical raw materials of Mercury, Sulphur and Salt. These three substances occur in nature in many combinations and mixtures, whereby Mercury corresponds alchemically to the Spirit, Sulphur to the Soul, and Salt to the Body.

Michael Maier writes ‘Just as Atalanta flees, so one voice repeatedly flees from, and is followed by the other as by Hippomenes. In the third voice the other two are stabilized and anchored. This one is simple and runs in constant note-values as the golden apple’.

The performers are four singers (one to a part, SATB) and three instrumentalists ° harp, sackbutt and erhu (the two-stringed Chinese fiddle). Across the fifty canons different combinations and numbers of voices and instruments are used, giving the impression of constant change and fluidity during the cycle.

Images

Emblemata
Malus
Petrus Volens
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