ZEITGEIST for string orchestra (12, 10, 8, 8, 4 or 6, 5, 4, 4, 2). 1996. 14 minutes. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.

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CBC Radio Orchestra
Mario Bernardi

Zeitgeist (spirit of the age) was a personal reflection on the character of the arts, music in particular in the mid-1990s, the time this work was composed. It was the result of an ongoing interest in cultural diversity and historical discontinuity, which have been and continue to be discernible characteristics of most of my work. By "historical discontinuity" I mean the approach to history whereby the artistic products of various eras are not viewed as successive links in a sequential chain, but rather as the pieces of a comprehensive puzzle, all of which are ever-present and functional in a timeless, multidimensional present. In this sense, Zeitgeist is a postmodern work: musical experiences from the past are taken out of their specific historical context and are assembled and juxtaposed in a way which reestablishes them as viable artistic experiences at a time different than when they first appeared. This synthesis of different approaches to music composition also springs from my belief that everything in the universe is connected and resonates with everything else, therefore there should always be a way to combine these chronologically and geographically disparate musical experiences so that they can make sense together and be party to a different kind of conversation.

There are two main themes alternating in Zeitgeist. The first theme can be described as a “seeker,” restlessly searching for meaning in different places and times. It is based on two short motives: the three-note motif which first appears unassumingly at measure 20 as the conclusion of an upwards moving gesture and the 'French Overture' motif (dotted eighth-note followed by a sixteenth-note) which is pervasive in the Baroque-like music of the opening. The two motives combine into a larger five-note idea which appears almost ceaselessly throughout the work in various guises, from Shostakovich-like polyphony to takeoffs on disco music of the mid/late seventies and everything in between. The second theme is more passive and introspective. It surrenders to its own neo-romantic beauty overlaid with Baroque like scalar passages by three solo violins and does not change during its two appearances in the music, the first time interrupted by the first theme, the second time allowed to complete its entire statement. This limited and clearly delineated structural framework helps to counterbalance the eclectic and seemingly indiscriminate exuberance of this work and build some creative tension between the erratic surface and the solid deeper architecture. 

Premiere performance: May 22 1999, 8:00 PM. The Camerata Orchestra; Alexander Myrat, conductor. The Athens Concert Hall [Megaron Mousikis], Athens, Greece.

Premiere performance: May 22 1999, 8:00 PM. The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony; Noel Edison, conductor. Centre in the Square, Kitchener, Canada. Part of the Open Ears Festival 1999.


  The orchestra was in top form, opening the evening with Zeitgeist (Spirit of Age) by Toronto composer Christos Hatzis. This substantial work intriguingly juxtaposes traditional baroque-like themes with new music, much of which is stormy and mysterious. Arresting in its unpredictability, its rhythmic appeal and the driving intensity conductor Anne Manson pulled from the orchestra made this a great opener. Gwenda Nemerofsky, Winnipeg Free Press (Canada) April 12, 2012.

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