Medieval books of hours were devotional books that contained prayers and psalms intended to guide Christians through the Roman Catholic liturgy and delineated the canonical hours that divided a typical day into morning, afternoon, evening, and night-time prayers. The first two “hours,” Matins and Lauds, correspond to pre-dawn and dawn, while the last two, Vespers and Compline, to sunset and final prayers. The inner hours divide the workday into tri-hourly prayers; Prime, Terce, Sext, and None therefore refer to the first (6AM), third (9AM), sixth (noon), and ninth (3PM) working hours, respectively.
In my Book of Hours, I adopted this symmetrical structure and wrote each of its eight movements in pairs, such that “Matins” and “Compline” constitute a pair, as do “Lauds” and “Vespers,” “Prime” and “None,” and “Terce” and “Sext.” Each pair shares a pitch center and color, and the overall harmonic structure of the work emerges, parallel to the changing light of day, as a gradual shift from nearly all black keys in “Matins” to nearly all white keys in “Terce” and “Sext,” ultimately returning to nearly all black keys in “Compline.” Similarly, each pair shares a programmatic element: “Matins” is composed almost entirely of bird songs, and is answered in “Compline” by human song in the Salve Regina antiphon it sets. The bells of “Lauds,” announcing the dawn, are transformed into walls of sound in “Vespers” that by the end of that movement have receded with the setting sun. “Prime” begins the working day tentatively, becoming more publicly expressive as it proceeds, while “None” is absolute stasis and is reminiscent of an oppressively hot summer afternoon. Finally, “Terce” is all energy and impetus (inspired by the Ladder of Divine Ascent, a monastic treatise sometimes invoked during this hour) that reaches a plateau in “Sext,” the most brilliantly bright hour of the day.
Book of Hours was written for my good friend Peter Orth, whose artistry and unique musical voice were paramount in my thinking while composing it.