Growing up Protestant in west Texas, I was never exposed to the art and architecture of European (or Latin American) Catholic churches, except for pictures in books, or individual works of art, totally removed from their context, in museums. Later when I lived in Latin America, and then traveled in Europe, I was overwhelmed and fascinated by both the beauty and the unaccustomed emotional extravagance I saw in the great churches and cathedrals, especially in Spain and Italy, as well as Mexico and Guatemala.
I was especially intrigued by the sorts of things that Presbyterians Just. Don't. Do., including reliquaries, those containers made to house relics of saints, especially their bones. While sometimes simple, they are often elaborate, gorgeous works of exquisite craftsmanship. For me they have about them a very large element of the macabre and bizarre, despite their beauty.
Not surprisingly, many Christian reliquaries are in the shape of a cross, with the relic contained in a hollow-usually but not always glassed in-where the arms of the cross meet.
I saw a particularly beautiful example in Prague, in the St. Agnes Convent Museum of Czech Medieval Art. The incongruousness of a few bone fragments housed in such a splendid piece of art struck a deep chord in me. I also just liked the sound of the phrase "Ossuary Cross," as it was called in English. I made a note of this as a possible title for a future work.
In this composition I have attempted to recreate some of the beauty and mystery of such objects, but I will confess that it's really more about the darker images these creations conjure up for me. A slow, mostly intense, opening gives way to a faster section with skittish, nervous, scurrying music as well as more assertive passages. A compressed version of the opening leads to the final climax, which in turn gives way to the quiet, but still unsettled, ending. Much of the harmonic language of Ossuary Cross is built on the contrast of two chords: the very dissonant opening sonority, and a simple C-major triad, usually in first inversion. I have consciously exploited the wonderful kinds of sounds that strings, and only strings, can make.
Ossuary Cross was written at the request of José Serebrier for a concert and recording project he was working on with the St. Michel Strings of Mikkeli, Finland.