• Satyagraha Musical Highlights

Again and Again:
A Close Look at the Final Aria in Satyagraha

Musical notation for the below example can be found here.

Satyagraha’s closing aria is a setting of a section of the Bhagavad Gita that describes how the Lord Krishna returns to Earth over and over in new incarnations, whenever his presence is needed (see Part D of the Classroom Activity for a translation of the text). The setting embodies not only the text’s theme of recurrence, but also the simplicity of Gandhi’s message, the purity of his character and the tenacity of his work, all through a straightforward compositional technique: The tenor sings the same rising eight-note phrase 30 (!) times in a row: 

  • He sings the phrase three times,
  • the orchestra plays for four measures,
  • he sings the phrase three more times,
  • the orchestra plays for 20 measures,
  • then the cycle repeats.

After four such cycles, the tenor sings his phrase three times, the orchestra follows for four measures, then he sings three last repetitions before the orchestra  carries the work to its quietly dazzling conclusion.

With the silent Martin Luther King Jr. on stage (as if from the future), Gandhi declares, “I come into being age after age and take a visible shape and move a man with men for the protection of good, thrusting the evil back and setting virtue on her seat again.” He sings an ascending Phrygian scale, all the white notes on a keyboard from E to E an octave higher.

If you conducted the Classroom Activity The Secret of Satyagraha, your students might notice that this melody sounds familiar. Play Track 2. A flute melody emerges above the tremolo strings, played in the Phrygian mode. This scale is the basis for the final moments of the opera, as heard above, but at a much slower tempo.

Track 17 presents the complete, spellbinding aural experience of the final aria.