Toute clarté m’est obscure

Isaiah Ceccarelli

A marvelous recording, leaving this listener eager for more. The Squid’s Ear, USA

Isaiah Ceccarelli at a highly interesting transformation of neo-tonal orchestral music in large instrumentation to minimal and intimate… Groove, Germany

I wrote Toute clarté m’est obscure in 2013. In my catalogue, its direct ancestors are De cælo servare (2011) and lieux-dits (2006). It’s one of these pieces that shouldn’t work on paper: too many (very busy) people involved, too many moving parts, the piece is too long, impossible to book anywhere… Then, years later, with two major concerts and an album, I’m overjoyed to realize that this music is still going strong. What a joy!

  • Canada Council for the Arts

CD (AM 265)

  • Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
  • AM 265
  • 2021
  • UCC 771028126521
  • Total duration: 71:27
  • Sympathique case
  • 126 mm × 126 mm × 5 mm
  • 35 g

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Download (AM 265_NUM)


Toute clarté m’est obscure

This text is unavailable in English.

Toute clarté m’est obscure
et toute biauté laydure.
et toute joye tristour;

Des nuages noirs sont accrochés aux pentes des cols,
hérauts des jours qui sont passés à jamais.
Mon amour, buvons ce vin de pierre calcaire
à la frivole douceur de l’aube,
à l’âcreté de la nuit.
Une aubade
dans l’exquise argenture du matin;
Une sérénade
sous les nuages tremblants de la soierie
Je compose un précis de désintégration
à l’attention du firmament,
à la tombée de la nuit.
Ô suavité de l’âme
Même au milieu de la vie
la mort nous entoure, chantant:
[clameur polyphonique
cymbales inharmoniques;
Ô aigreur,
ô amertume,
ô rancœur.
Toute clarté m’est obscure
[sobres matins grisâtres, bruine de campagne].
Toute clarté m’est obscure
[ces chemins embroussaillés, ce ruisseau saumâtre].
Amors, a vous m’en plaing.

Isaiah Ceccarelli (2013, 18), sauf texte en italiques — anonyme (XIVe siècle) [i-18]


I would like to thank my friends who play in the ensemble. You are incredible musicians and I love you all! A big thank you to Productions SuperMusique, who offered me the first “carte blanche” concert that led to the premiere of Toute clarté m’est obscure, and who then booked a second performance of it in 2018. Thank you to Joane Hétu, who invited me to record this music on DAME/Ambiances Magnétiques, and also to Cléo Palacio-Quintin, who convinced me to take up this piece again in 2018 when I was in a completely different headspace (my young children, other commissions, other projects, etc.) and who helped me greatly with the recording session in July 2021.

Isaiah Ceccarelli

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In the press


Brian Olewnick, The Squid’s Ear, August 16, 2022

It is likely going too far to call it a trend, but in recent months there have been a number of releases from contemporary composers who reference pre- or early Renaissance composers in their pieces, both titularly and within the work, especially people like Hildegarde von Bingen and Johannes Ockeghem. It would seem to be a decent enough fit, especially to the extent that elements like drones, intertwined organ-y harmonies, etc. could be reasonably extended and transformed from such initial models. Ceccarelli, in previous releases on the Another Timbre label, has touched on this area, offering variations on Kyrie Eleisons and other church-based forms. On this gorgeous recording, he continues, obliquely, down the same path.

The only semi-direct reference to earlier times is in the enclosed text, in French, from an anonymous 14th century source. Ceccarelli employs a 16-member ensemble, including voice. The opening Prélude harks back directly to pre-Renaissance forms, though in a kind of state of suspension, the notes hanging a bit, less rigidly channeled. Bourdons, running more than 17 minutes, stretches things out beautifully and softly, luscious extended chords wafting through the room, gently buffeted by ringing percussion. In an odd way, it reminds this listener of a severely toned-down early version of Glenn Branca’s massive sound clouds — all the better, as well. Ceccarelli expands the palette in Des nuages noirs, forming a kind of sonic brocade (with soprano) that drifts further from traditional sources, still with long tones but the harmonies have modernized; quite a moving piece. The first of two Intermèdes is a mid-tempo dance, summoning memories of medieval recorder music while the second is a dark, low-string driven dirge, somber and chilling.

Aubade, another lengthy work, is in adjacent territory to Bourdons, a rich, welling hum, on the surface steady-state but containing all manner of complexities and just gorgeously arranged, an ecstatically enveloping experience. Another stately, almost minuet-like dance, Même au milieu de la vie leads, after the intervening second Intermède to the title piece. It shimmers in the air, with organetto, strings and metallophones forming a pulsing bed over which soprano Ellen Wieser floats in and out. Though remnants of an ecclesiastic sensibility remains, it goes beyond that, out into the wonders of the real world.

A marvelous recording, leaving this listener eager for more.

A marvelous recording, leaving this listener eager for more.


Frank P Eckert, Groove, March 16, 2022

Die thematischen Cluster, die sich hin und wieder aus dem mal absichtlich gesuchten, mal eher zufällig und glücklich scharfgestellten Fokus auf bestimmte Szenezusammenhänge und Länder ergeben, beschränken sich gerade nicht nur auf Jazz. Im frankophonen Teil Kanadas arbeitet etwa der Komponist Isaiah Ceccarelli an einer hochinteressanten Transformation neutönender Orchestermusik in großer Besetzung zu minimal und intim wirkenden, mitunter sogar Dark-Ambient-nahen elegischen Drones, die ohne jegliche Nostalgie nach der Disruption auskommen, die sich die Neue Musik einmal vorgenommen hatte, und dennoch nicht zu neoklassischer Einfalt drängen. Toute clarté m’est obscure (Ambiances Magnétiques) kommt so bei einer rauen, schartigen Schönheit an, wie sie etwa Pan Daijing vom Noise herkommend vor Kurzem ganz ähnlich für sich definiert hat.

Isaiah Ceccarelli at a highly interesting transformation of neo-tonal orchestral music in large instrumentation to minimal and intimate…


Mark Daelmans-Sikkel, Vital, no. 1327, March 15, 2022

Isaiah Ceccarelli is a percussionist and composer. Toute clarté m’est obscure (2013 with a revision in 2018) consists of three long pieces, each over fifteen minutes long, three written interludes, and two shorter pieces. Bourdons is a kind of group meditation on long sustained notes with fluttering dissonance in several instruments. Intermede 2 is scored for the lower registers in the ensemble, which creates a brooding atmosphere. The title piece is a setting of a fourteenth-century ballad.

Again long-sustained notes with ever-so-slowly shifting notes, creating chords that slowly evolve, but with added notes to create a moving sound carpet. This is not meant to be background music or muzak. The shortest piece lasts just 2 minutes, and it’s the most uplifting piece on the recording. It contains a jolting melody sung by the soprano accompanied by gentle and soothing chords. But the text counters this by stating that death surrounds us even in our lives. Seventy minutes long, it’s quite worthwhile to take the plunge and immerse yourself into Ceccarelli’s sound world.

Seventy minutes long, it’s quite worthwhile to take the plunge and immerse yourself into Ceccarelli’s sound world.