The Garden of Cosmic Speculation

Composer : GOSS, Stephen

DO 1055
ISBN : 978-2-89503-830-6 
Chamber music
40 p. + separated parts

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for violin, viola, cello and piano

The Garden of Cosmic Speculation is one of the most original and important gardens of the 21st century, created by the architectural critic and designer Charles Jencks. Covering thirty acres in the Borders area of Scotland, The Garden of Cosmic Speculation is conceived as a place to explore certain fundamental aspects of the universe. What are atoms made of and how should we imagine them? How does DNA make up a living organism? Charles Jencks has created a series of new and expansive visual metaphors that challenge misleading and frequently misunderstood concepts such as the Big Bang and the Selfish Gene. 

My piece moves through the physical space of Jencks’ garden exploring its sensuous surface in rich colours and varied musical styles while exploiting its underlying theoretical basis to generate the musical material. 

Each of the eleven movements focuses on a single garden feature which, in turn, is based on a particular scientific concept or theory. Sometimes the interpretation of the science is quite literal, at other times more subtle. For instance, The Black Hole Terrace starts calmly before the music gets caught up in the gravitational pull of a black hole. As the event horizon approaches the music is stretched and becomes denser, eventually focussing on a single note. This singularity is followed by a big bang. Conversely, Jumping Bridge, based on Jencks’ fractal bridge, is composed with the help of the computer program FractMus which generates fractal musical material using the mathematical process of iterating algorithms. Fractal geometry and the notion of self-similarity are recurring themes in Jencks’ garden and I have reflected this in The Garden of the Six Senses where the eleven short sections of the movement represent the whole piece in microcosm. 

The Snail Mound is a large spiral earthwork based on Fibonacci proportions, consequently the music also uses Fibonacci relationships while simultaneously referring to three models – Bartok’s 3rd Piano Concerto, and two pieces by Beethoven (the Heiliger Dankgesang from the String Quartet Op.132 and the 4th Piano Concerto). Quotes, references and ciphers litter the score to help recreate the sense of fun that permeates Jencks’ garden. For example, The Nonsense (named after a folly in the garden) half-quotes Gershwin’s It ain’t necessarily so and ends with a chord that remembers the day that a tree came crashing through the roof of Jencks’ folly.

 Stephen Goss (2005)

Selection 2   15’00”

1. The Black Hole Terrace                

2. The Snail Mound                    

8. The Garden of the Six Senses             

9. The Symmetry Break Terrace            

10. Octagonia                        

11. The Snake Mound                    


Selection 3   8’45” 

1. The Black Hole Terrace                   

2. The Snail Mound                    

3. Soliton Gates                    

4. The Nonsense                        


Selection 4   11’20”

4. The Nonsense                    

5. Quark Walk                        

6. Two Ways to Paradise                 

7. Jumping Bridge                    

8. The Garden of the Six Senses