The recording was funded in part by the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia. We are grateful to the Fund for their support of Philadelphia-area arts organizations, and their commitment to the creation of new works.
The texts for FALL AND DECLINE span millennia, but the topics remain the same: hubris, fear, and inevitable decline, with a pocket of hope near the end. We begin with an account of Cambyses II, ruler of the Achaemenid Empire in what is present day Iran. His conquest of Egypt ca. 500 BCE is perhaps his most famous achievement, and is relayed here through Samuel Purchas’s 1614 volume and credited as having been “translated out of Arabike by T. Erpenius.” Through the telescoping lenses of history his story emerges and we see the heights of glory, misadventure, and then finally Cambyses is replaced by others, who in turn, fade away.
The second text is from nearly a millennium and a half later, itself seen through the lens of a 19th century Britain: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam (ca. 1120) translated from Persian by Edward Fitzgerald. The poem underscores the futility of man’s ambitions against the inevitable succession of time.
American poet Todd Hearon wrote After the President’s Speech You Dream of Corpses in 2007 in the middle of the Iraq War. The stark and horror-filled imagery evokes the idiosyncratic William Blake and responds to the videos on the 24-hour news channels. He calls on the reader to place themselves within history and question their role there.
The fourth text is from Sadakichi Hartmann, a German-Japanese artist. He directly recalls the quatrains of Khayyam, and offers a hopeful note, or at least a note of acceptance, through images of sunrise and orchards—here used as symbols of rebirth.
The final text comes from Edward Gibbon’s iconic The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (ca. 1789). Towards the end of his sprawling volumes the author ruminates on our place in history—on the sheer scale of it all, piled up around us and ahead of us.
The term “decline and fall” serves as the inspiration for the title of this work. Gibbon suggests that civilization slowly decays and then ultimately fails; Fall and Decline suggest that perhaps things don’t work that way. Perhaps the decline and decay is omnipresent and timeless. The “fall” part is perhaps the metaphoric fall from Grace, or perhaps the moment after the Big Bang, with the creation of all matter followed by slow and inevitable entropic heat death eons later. The ‘fall’ is the starting point, instead of the end.
In either case, as Yeats asserts, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” and this dance of creation in the face of decay is both futile and the best possible thing I can imagine.
This work was written and premiered in the depths of the Trump administration, recorded from the heart of the Coronavirus pandemic, and edited during the weeks surrounding the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol Building.
It is the product of its time: hope and creativity in the face of decline.
— Gregory W Brown