When I listen to contemporary Paris-based, Russian composer Sergey Khismatov’s Quasar for organ (or accordion) I can feel the extreme radiance that he was trying to capture. According to Wikipedia, quasars are areas of extremely high energy that surround the supermassive black holes of large galaxies. They emit high levels of redshifted electromagnetic energy (including visual light) that are sometimes 100 times the lumosity levels of the Milky Way. They are known for leaving long emission lines in their spectra that are uncharacteristic of stars. By drawing musical metaphors to this phenomenon, Khismatov is able to create a musical depiction that brings you there.
The high energy is presented in the extremely high tessitura that dominates the textures of this music. When harmonies are played in that register the timbre of the organ becomes much shriller than it is in lower ranges. Khismatov creates some very grating and some very sonorous harmonies (especially sonorous in the final section of the piece starting around 11’25”, my favorite part) that unfold through the piece, but because of the relatively loud dynamic of the whole piece and generally high tessitura both consonance and dissonance are delivered intensely. In this way, the piece feels like piercing light beaming at you as you listen.
The long emission lines of quasars are captured by the organ holding on to notes and sonorities for fairly long amounts of time. He changes few notes at a time and also builds and takes away the number of notes being held in a similarly slow process. The contradiction between this very slow process and the high intensity is a great metaphor for celestial bodies. They have such massive amounts of energy behind them, within them, or exploding out of them, but they operate on such a large scale of time and size that they can also seem to be very static. Even further, the slow polyphony and lack of other simultaneous musical ideas makes this piece sound like a quasar burning against the void.
Thoughts on the piece? Feel free to leave them below. Enjoy the music!