A Treatise on the Astrolabe (2012)

Duration: 25′
Instrumentation: Soprano, percussion, and double bass

The only one of Chaucer’s works that is scientific, not literary, in nature, A Treatise on the Astrolabe represents the oldest known English-language scientific manual and is a personal manual for his son on how to use an astrolabe, an ancient astronomical instrument. The that this work was created for a practical rather than artistic purpose was particularly appealing – it called to mind Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, when Brother Francis creates an illumination of a relic of St. Leibowitz, unaware that the relic was in fact a simple, and quite ordinary, circuit diagram.

Presented here are seven songs divided among four parts. The first part, “Prelude”, contains one song, a setting of Chaucer’s personal introduction to his son, Lewis. The second, “Here Begynneth the descripcioun of thin Astrolabie”, contains three songs describing various components of the astrolabe. “The worken the verrey pracktik of the forseide conclusions” folows with two songs explaining the use of the astrolabe to calculate the position of the sun and the time of dawn and dusk; here, the words are spoken rather than sung. “Postlude” concludes the work in a style reminiscent of the opening, unmeasured material, using for its text the humble conclusion to Chaucer’s introduction.

I am very grateful to soprano Tiffany DuMouchelle and percussionist Steve Solook, who I first approached in 2011 about a potential Chaucer cycle, as well as bassist Scott Worthington, who came to the project later but no less enthusiastically; without their support this piece would not have been possible.


April 14, 2013 – San Diego, CA (world premiere)
Tiffany DuMouchelle, soprano; Steve Solook, percussion; and Scott Worthington, bass