Symphony No. 7 “A Toltec Symphony”
Music by Philip Glass
SATB Chorus; 2+pic.2+ca.2(Ebcl)+bcl.2/4.3.2+btbn.1/
Commissioned by National Symphony Orchestra celebrating the 60th birthday of Leonard Slatkin
January 20, 2005 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC (USA) by National Symphony Orchestra and Master Chorale of Washington conducted by Leonard Slatkin.
The world “Toltec” in the title of the Symphony No. 7 refers to the tradition and beliefs which were the cultural and spiritual matrix of Mesoamerica and which began many centuries before the European invasion. Mesoamerica is now believed to have extended from central Mexico to the north as far as New Mexico and Texas in the United States, and to the south to include Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Though its roots began, according to recent research, some five thousand years ago among the Olmec, and achieved its peak in the times of Teotihuacan (500 BC to 500 AD), the traditional belief was that the Toltec culture reached its height in the city of Tula and dominated that part of the world from 700 AD to 1100 AD. The Post-Classic Mayan and Aztec periods that followed maintained the Toltec accomplishments in mathematics, precision in making calendars, building and architecture.
Equally important were the Toltec developments in social organization and personal spiritual development. Like many indigenous traditions, the Toltecs emphasized the relationship with the forces of the natural world (the sun, earth, water, fire and wind) in developing their own wisdom traditions. These kinds of practices can still be found among some of the indigenous peoples of Mexico today, e.g. the Wirrarika from North Mexico.
This Symphony is inspired by the Wirrarika sacred trinity, as indicated in the respective movement headings: The Corn, The Hikuri (The Sacred Root), and The Blue Deer.
The Corn represents a direct link between Mother Earth and the well-being of human beings. But it also represents the responsibility of the people to nurture the gifts of Mother Earth-the corn which will sustain them.
The Sacred Root is found in the high deserts of north and central Mexico, and is understood to be the doorway to the world of the Spirit.
The Blue Deer is considered the holder of the Book of Knowledge. Any man or woman who aspires to be a “Person of Knowledge” will, through arduous training and effort, have to encounter the Blue Deer. The Blue Deer might be seen as a literal blue deer or something more abstract-for example, a vision, a voice that one might hear, or a thought uninvited but present in the mind of the practitioner.
When I was invited to compose a work for Leonard Slatkin’s birthday season, I discussed with him the possibility of a symphony based on the Toltec wisdom tradition. As a man who has single-mindedly devoted himself to becoming a Man of (Musical) Knowledge I thought he would be intrigued by the Toltec point of view. He accepted my suggestion with enthusiasm, and this is the result.
Finally, I would like to thank Victor Sanchez who, through his books, teaching and his fieldwork, has made a lifetime effort to preserve and clarify the Toltec tradition for people today. He has kindly and patiently “opened the door” to this tradition for me.
– Philip Glass, November 2004
Dunvagen Music Publishers