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Kukulkan

(2006) for violin, horn & piano

  1. Kukulkan's Ascent  (El Castillo ­ March equinox)
  2. Water Run  (Profane Well)
  3. Celestial Determination  (El Caracol)
  4. Processional-Offering   (Sacred Well)
  5. Quetzalcoatal's Sacrifice  (The Great Ball Court)
  6. Kukulkan's Descent  (El Castillo ­ September equinox)


duration: 20 minutes

premiere: Veronique Mathieu, vn; John Manganaro, hn; Jihye Chang Sung, pno., June 2006, Costa Rico

audio (arrowheads navigate tracks):

   I-mp3   II-mp3   III-mp3   IV-mp3   V-mp3   VI-mp3

This recording is of Kukulkan II by the IU New Music Ensemble with:
      Daniel Stein, flute
      Yi-Chun Chen, clarinet
      Liana Gourdjia, violin
      Eric Allen, cello
      Teddy Niedermaier, piano

Perusal Score

Kukulkan II


Program Note

Commissioned by the Trio Silvestre Revueltas with funding from the US-Mexico Fund for Culture

Like many visitors to the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, I stood in awe before the temple of Kukulkan, the god-man known to the Toltecs and Aztecs as Quetzalcoatal or "Feathered Serpent," and the Great Ball Court, imagining the exotic rituals that have taken place there. This work is a flight of fantasy that attempts to evoke the ritualistic character of some of the monuments found at Chichén Itzá, including:

El Castillo: Actually a huge solar calendar, the main pyramid of Kukulkan is a time temple that sheds light on the Mayan astronomical system. During the equinoxes, the shadow pattern of the pyramid's steps seems to show a serpent climbing up the steps in March and down the steps in September.

Two cenotes, or wells (profane and sacred): The smaller profane well was used for every day needs, while the larger sacred well was used in worship, and offerings were continually made to it. Divers have retrieved skeletons and many ritual objects from its depths.

The Observatory (El Caracol): The observatory was built in a spiraling design, with the windows in the dome aligning with certain stars on specific dates, showing the precision of Mayan astronomy.

The Great Ball Court: The whole basis and rationale of Mayan sacrifice was the belief that the victim sacrificed was Quetzalcoatal himself, and by sacrificing the victim they were reenacting Quetzalcoatal's sacrifice at the beginning of time, thereby renewing creation. In one version of the sacrifice, Quetzalcoatal manifested himself as two persons: the twins Quetzalcoatal and Tezcatlipoca. In a ritual that took place at the beginning of time, Quetzalcoatal killed his twin, from whose body the world then emerged. At the end of significant time periods - at times when creation ran out of power - a ritual ballgame was staged at the ball field of Chichén Itzá. Each side incarnated the God Quetzalcoatal, one side as Tezcatipoca and one side as the twin Quetzalcoatal. The losers - i.e., the players incarnating Tezcatlipoca, were then sacrificed. The Mayans believed that this sacrifice - as a repetition of the original sacrifice of Quetzalcoatal - would renew, and keep the world alive.

(alternate version for violin, cello, piano)

(alternate version for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) recordings above are of this version


Score Samples

(first page of each movement)