Pax Universalis (2015)

8 minutes
Orchestra (3322.4331.timp+3 perc,hp,pno+celesta, strings)
Commissioned by the Santa Rosa Symphony Orchestra


I wish to dedicate this work, by gracious suggestion of His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal, to the children who have fallen victim to global conflict.
His Royal Highness adds the following statement: “A most worthy subject for this dedication and sentiment are the children who are dying as a result of the wars raging in all parts of the world. If only peace would come, these children would be alive.”

As a composer who is uninterested in the idea of “music for the sake of music” or “abstract” music, the genre of the tone-poem has always held a special place in my heart when it comes to purely instrumental music. I’ve always regarded the symphony orchestra, with it’s diverse strands of different instruments with their different colors, origins and dynamics, as an ideal collective of human beings who come together for the exulted purpose of creative labor. The ideal counterpoint of these different voices coming together but not losing their individuality (their own purpose for being) seems like an ideal model for the cultures of the world to live in counterpoint with one another. Rather than losing their individual voices, they enhance the whole collective; they form a beautiful tapestry of counterpoint. This is Beethoven’s symphonic community of “Alle Menschen werden Brüder”.

So when I received a commission to write my first tone-poem for orchestra after four symphonies, several concertos and other orchestral works, I chose for my subject what JFK described as “the most important topic on earth: peace.” But peace is too general a notion to describe the highest aspirations of symphonic forces raising their voices in counterpoint. This peace had to be one, like Beethoven’s, of universal human brotherhood.

“What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek?”, JFK continues, “Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave.”

In the decades since JFK delivered that speech, our greatest diplomats and artists alike have discarded of the myopic idea of a Pax Americana or a Pax Britannica etc. The best have been working for the only sort of sustainable peace and that must be a peace of harmony and counterpoint, the type of peace embodied in the highest ideals of the symphony orchestra and the inspiration that humanity can derive from the music that this special community can produce: a universal peace, a Pax Universalis.

“I am talking about genuine peace,” continues Kennedy, “the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”

Pax Universalis is my most consistently joyful work to date and stands as a ode to this vision of peace and the hope that we will one day achieve it. The extroverted Andalusian musical elements of the work are a reference to the lost Islamic Golden Age of Al-Andalus, the closest we have come to reaching ideal peace on Earth in the Arab and Islamic imaginations. Prince Turki captured the immense sense of joyful meaning of this age of harmony when he said aloud what many Muslims worldwide have daily on their minds: “The loss of Andalucia is like losing part of my body.”

- Mohammed Fairouz (2015)

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