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Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine

Charles Anthony Silvestri is not only a brilliant poet, teacher and historian, he is a consummate choral singer blessed with a beautiful tenor voice. When Dr. Gene Brooks called and asked me to write the 2001 Raymond C. Brock Commission, I could think of no other author whose words I would rather set.

We started with a simple concept: what would it sound like if Leonardo DaVinci were dreaming? And more specifically, what kind of music would fill the mind of such a genius? The drama would tell the story of Leonardo being tormented by the calling of the air, tortured to such degree that his only recourse was to solve the riddle and figure out how to fly.

We approached the piece as if we were writing an opera brève. Charles (Tony to his friends) would supply me with draft after draft of revised ‘libretti’, and I in turn would show him the musical fragments I had written. Tony would then begin to mold the texts into beautiful phrases and gestures as if he were a Renaissance poet, and I constantly refined my music to match the ancient, elegant style of his words. I think in the end we achieved a fascinating balance, an exotic hybrid of old and new.

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine is the second in a planned cycle of element works (the first, Cloudburst, coincidentally, was completed nine years earlier to the day). It is dedicated with much love and respect to my publisher, the radiant and elegant Ms. Gunilla Luboff.

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine

I.
Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…

Tormented by visions of flight and falling,
More wondrous and terrible each than the last,
Master Leonardo imagines an engine
To carry a man up into the sun…

And as he’s dreaming the heavens call him,
softly whispering their siren-song:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)

L’uomo colle sua congiegniate e grandi ale,
facciendo forza contro alla resistente aria.
(A man with wings large enough and duly connected
might learn to overcome the resistance of the air.)

II.
Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…

As the candles burn low he paces and writes,
Releasing purchased pigeons one by one
Into the golden Tuscan sunrise…

And as he dreams, again the calling,
The very air itself gives voice:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)

Vicina all’elemento del fuoco…
(Close to the sphere of elemental fire…)

Scratching quill on crumpled paper,

Rete, canna, filo, carta.
(Net, cane, thread, paper.)

Images of wing and frame and fabric fastened tightly.

…sulla suprema sottile aria.
(…in the highest and rarest atmosphere.)

III.
Master Leonardo Da Vinci Dreams of his Flying Machine…
As the midnight watchtower tolls,
Over rooftop, street and dome,
The triumph of a human being ascending
In the dreaming of a mortal man.

Leonardo steels himself,
takes one last breath,
and leaps…

“Leonardo, Vieni á Volare! Leonardo, Sognare!” (“Leonardo, come fly! Leonardo, Dream!”)

Charles Anthony Silvestri, 1965-present

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  • Benjamin

    I've been listening to this song for about 3 years, and I'll never forget the feeling I got the first time I heard it. But reading your thought process, and following along with the text brought back that amazing feeling. Thanks, Eric. This will forever be one of my favorite choral pieces.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81P-ZCzObWU Ana Arias

    Hello. I sing in the spanish choir El León de Oro (Luanco- Asturias) and I believe that Leonardo is probably the most difficult piece that we have sung, but also one of the most exciting. As soon as we made it ours, we have enjoyed very much interpreting it. This piece helped us to obtain some important international prizes and, especially, it did us to get excited very often on the stage.Even I remember some tears of emotion on having finished the song.

    Here is a link of one of our versions. It was performed in Arezzo (Italy) in an international choir competition where we get the first price.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81P-ZCzObWU

    We also sing in the choir many other pieces written by you. Thanks a lot for making us so happy whith your music.

    Some of us are going to see you in London in October. We are loking forward that day.

    *Sorry for my poor English.

  • Sydney Kirchner

    I first heard this piece about 5 months ago when my high school chamber choir performed it for our concert. I was in complete shock and awe and i fell in love with the piece instantly. Today I learned that all of our choirs are going to be singing as a mass choir and we will be singing "hppe, faith, life, love" (that being the theme of our next concert)

    I love this piece and I love that one as well. I can't wait to learn even more of Eric Whitacre genius.

  • Philip Barrett

    I would go as far to say that your partnership with Charles Silvestri is one of the most formidable choral collaborations to date.

  • Mollie

    We sang this song in our high school Chamber Choir last year and I can easily say that it was the most thrilling and awe-inspiring piece I have every participated in. Every time we would practice it felt like we were all high on drugs afterward. I will probably never pronounce the name "Leonardo" correctly again. It was a religious experience singing this.

  • Jyoti Iyer

    Mr. Whitacre,

    I was part of the Lady Shri Ram Cellege for Women (New Delhi, India) Western Music Society for 3 years. It has become a trend in Delhi university circles to sing a cappella pieces, which is odd, because there are NEVER any singers in these circles who can even read sheet music. We sang this piece, a version we edited to fit a 6 minute slot. And it changed my life. To have been amateurs who could only sing from memory, and to accomplish even an approximation of this exquisite composition was something that made me believe anything is possible. I always felt that to not know the rules, the canon, the traditions of formal styles of music and then to perform them to perfection was the greatest challenge possible. That is why I love a cappella: the voice is the most basic instrument – you don't even need to buy something to start to be a musician. I have since composed lots of my own music (including 7-part close harmonies), and though I'm still a nobody.

    Thank you and Mr. Silvestri for this hauntingly beautiful song.

  • Rachel

    I went to the Sierras last week. While taking a hike at Virginia Lakes, I was listening to my choral playlist on my ipod. Leonardo came on right as we were hiking next to the highest lake. I looked up at all the towering shear rock cliffs rocketing skyward next to us and I had to stop walking and just listen. I could literally feel the flight taking place during the end section because the environment around me encouraged such impossibilities and triumph. It was such a magical listening moment. =D

  • James Masters

    I sing in the Auburn HS Varsity Singers and we're in the middle of rehersing this song at the moment. We performed Lux Arumque last year and I was in awe as I imagined Jesus decending unto the earth next to a golden light. it is a beautiful peice. But like i said, Leonardo is your peice that we are currently working on and it is a very beautiful, very inspiring, and very challanging. Thank you and Mr Silvestri for showing me the power music holds over spirit.

  • Sophia Vojta

    This piece is incredibly beautiful and incredibly inspiring. It's helped me write poetry again, something I haven't been able to do in a while. It's a perfect imaging of what the inside's of a genius's mind might look like, and I'm thrilled that it's included on Light and Gold. Thank you so much.

  • William

    First off, I'm a band nerd at heart (trumpet of course) , yet choir groupie part time. I have to say this piece takes my breath away every time I hear it. Just the sheer emotion you project into your music is incredible in itself. The real reason for this post was to pose a question. Has there been any thought into putting this piece into Wind Band form? The thought of it is amazing to me but I was just wondering if the thought ever crossed your mind. I know you are of course extremely busy, but it would be AMAZING! Thank you for your amazing compositions! -yours in music- William

  • someone who likes broad, powerful voices

    I personally prefer the UST singer’s version, but this version is not too bad as well

  • someone who likes broad, powerful voices

    damn the embed code isnt showing… nvr mind i’ll try to put up the link here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewF5WKtd_To

  • Ilana Klein

    Hi Mr. Whitacre! My school finally almost tackled Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine and I wanted to show you in hopes that you would somehow maybe see it. Here’s the link and I hope you enjoy it! It’s a bit Alto heavy because it’s my friend’s recording and she was recording in the alto section. Haha

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QMP10u5Ajw&feature=youtube_gdata_player

  • Byron Milton

    Totally love the song! I am doing the song next year(2013) with my choir (Western Cape Youth Choir in South Africa)! I am looking forward to do the song!! My previous choir (Pro Cantu Youth Choir) also sang the song.

    • Tiaan Munnik

      I absolutely loved singing that song, I’m jealous that you get to do it again Byron.

  • Holly, Caitlin, Mattie, Charlotte and Emily

    Hello. We are high school music students studying this piece as part of our year 12 music course.

    Listening to this piece was an awe-inspiring experience. Your ability to convey a narrative through your music is incredible. In particular we loved the use of word painting – the ascending pattern of “flight” and descending pattern of “falling”, the imitation of the starting of a machine with “m-m-m-m-m-m-ma-chine” and how the voices imitated the experience of flying.

    The juxtaposition of dissonance followed by more traditional cadencing was truly beautiful. We also enjoyed the homage to the Renaissance period (Da Vinci’s prime time) through the change of metre from 6/8 to common time.

    We are about to start composing our HSC music 2 major works, and your pieces have been extremely inspiring for us, and have given us a lot of ideas. We hope that one day we will be able to meet you or hear your performances live.

    • Yinnie, Josie, Bella, Lilly

      Hi Holly, Caitlin, Mattie and Charlotte

      An interesting response. We’d like to add to your comments about his use of word painting and point out a truly magnificent example. The imagery of pigeons releasing and flapping off into the distance is encapsulated perfectly in the melodic development of “by one, by one, by one”.
      We too find this work inspiring and a suitable exemplar for composing our HSC Major Works.
      The “Leonardo” motif that calls out between voices are example of how to tie in and develop musical ideas to create a cohesive composition.

      We hope you enjoy your journey beyond high school!
      peace.

  • Brian Gruenewald

    Eric, I want to thank you for setting this poem to music, and I’ll tell you why:

    Lately I’ve been going through a minor depression phase. It began with the stress of getting my first job (which I still have yet to do). As I kept putting it off, the stress mounted. I kept putting it off because 1) like I said, it’s my first job, and I’m scared out of my mind, and 2) because of that fear I began to have feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. I kept thinking to myself things like “You can’t be qualified to do this or anything of the sort because you don’t have previous job experience” and “You can’t this, and you can’t that”. I felt like I had lost sight of what my purpose was in life; like I had lost faith in myself – stuff like that. I was ready to give up…
    The only things that were keeping me going were things pertaining to my religion and your music. I was on this webpage reading the words of Tony’s poem as your music played, and I began to regain that self-esteem and faith. This piece told me the story of a man who had a wild imagination and strong desire to achieve the impossible, but thoughts and dreams of failure, doubt and fear kept him from going out and doing what he aimed to achieve: send man soaring through the sky. He would picture himself flying through the clouds one moment, and the next he’d be falling back down to Earth. After an extended period of time facing and fighting his fears, he finally created that one thing that would send a man up, up, and away. But as he approaches the edge, those negative thoughts replay in his mind… yet he composes himself, “takes one last breath, and leaps…” The defining moment in time! He’s flying!
    I now look at Leonardo Da Vinci as a prime example of overcoming huge obstacles – within myself. This piece puts me on the path that leads out of the darkness of depression and into the light of joy. Thank you so much, Eric. This piece means a lot to me. You saved my life.

  • Jay Nelsestuen

    What are the last two planned works, for Earth and Fire? I see that you have air and water, but what are the last ones? Or when are they coming out?

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About Eric

Eric Whitacre is one of the most popular and performed composers of our time, a distinguished conductor, broadcaster and public speaker. His first album as both composer and conductor on Decca/Universal, Light & Gold, won a Grammy® in 2012, reaped unanimous five star reviews and became the no. 1 classical album in the US and UK charts within a week of release... view full bio