During at least half a millennium, kings, scientists, rich merchants and others have reserved large or small rooms to contain remarkable natural and manmade objects: unicorn’s horns, wondrous corals and giant pearls, artificial nightingales, mermaids’ skeletons, breathtaking artifacts, deformed creatures in glass jars. And above it all: a stuffed crocodile appearing to walk upside down under the ceiling.
These Cabinets of Curiosities were efforts to make a representation and mapping of the Universe, both its physical and mystical domains. Athanasius Kircher had this inscription painted on the ceiling of his museum: ‘Whosoever perceives the chain that binds the world below to the world above will know the mysteries of nature and achieve miracles.’
Here is an engraving from Ferrante Imperato’s Dell’Historia Naturale (Naples 1599), the earliest illustration of a natural history cabinet:
In a way, I see many of my compositions as cabinets of curiosities. Most of them have been inspired by things outside the world of music: bird song (Das war schön!), psychoanalysis (Id), politics (Concerning King), alchemy (Boyl, Solve et Coagula), waves of ice and stone (Onda di ghaccio and Stonewave), fish shoals (Ning), fractal mathematics (several works) tidal waves (Tides), brain waves and the border between life and non-life (feelings*), the mythical life of the city (Under City Skin), and much more. In fact, one of my works is inspired by – guess what – cabinets of curiosities! Curiosity Cabinet consists of 11 very short pieces for string quartet, lasting only 10 minutes in all.
So watch this space! The Cabinet will in the future branch out and grow new rooms.