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Program Notes



Roger Cichy, composer

Colours is an impressionistic work with each of the six movements representing a particular color. Composed in early 1997, Colours was commissioned by the Kansas State University Bands and premiered on May 10, 1997 with the composer (Roger Cichy) conducting. The music of each movement is not based on the outward appearance of its color, but rather the pigments that are combined to produce the particular color. Taken one step further, the color of each pigment is translated into its symbolic meaning, which is then represented through the music (e.g., green: warm, organic, middling qualities, immortality, neutrality). The musical "pigments" are blended into the composition of each movement to create the impression of the color. The work represents the association of color symbolism as interpreted through music as opposed to "orchestral colors," or timbres.

—source: Published score

The following is some background information on the symbolism of the various colors used in the piece Colours by Roger Cichy, in the hopes that it will stir players’ imaginations and help them understand the spirit of each movement a little better. The creative process, as explained in the conductor’s score and by Mr. Cichy to me, is incredibly multi-layered: basically, the colors of each movement don’t refer to orchestral “timbres,” but refer to the symbolic meanings of each of the colors (and each of the pigments that make up each color) and how those meanings took musical hold in Mr. Cichy’s mind. I don’t have a clearcut answer for what Mr. Cichy was imagining when he thought how to represent the symbolic meanings of the colors in music, since there are so many different symbolic meanings for each color, depending on various myths and legends, cultures, geographical locales, and eras of time. However, he did tell me that one of his major reference works was The Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, translated by John Buchanan-Brown (there is a copy in the reference section of the Acton (MA) Public Library and the book is also available for purchase via, etc.); but there are many other books about symbols. I spent about six hours in the Acton Library poring through the abovementioned book, and looking at some other reference sources and came to the following conclusion: there is so much and such varied material about the symbolism of colors that one could write an entire doctoral thesis on the subject! For the purposes of our playing Mr. Cichy’s piece, I’ll try and summarize just a few of the symbolic meanings that seem to be associated with each of the colors titled in each of the piece’s movements. Again, I can’t speak for Mr. Cichy and how he specifically “saw” the symbolism musically in his own mind, but to me the whole creative process in general seems astonishing: philosophical, literary, musical ... one layer on top of another. Truly amazing.

As Mr. Cichy says in the conductor’s score:

The music of each movement is not based so much on the outward appearance of its colors, but rather the pigments that are combined to produce the particular color; and, taken one step further, the color of each pigment is translated into its symbolic meaning, which is then represented through the music. The musical “pigments” are blended into the composition of each movement to create the impression of the color. Therefore, the work represents the association of color symbolism as interpreted through music, as opposed to “orchestra colors” or timbres. Obviously, the whole matter of color symbolism is highly subjective. It should also be stated that color symbolism can differ among cultures as well. The particular colors that each movement represent were chosen by the composer because of their contrast to one another.

Mr. Cichy also chose to use the British spelling (“colours”) in the piece’s title because that’s how it was written in most of the research material he used.

In the forward to Udo Becker’s Dictionary of Symbols, the editor says:

Upon hearing, reading, or seeing the word “symbol,” one inevitably forms a chain of associations whose links are certainly not rooted in the realm of the commonplace; allegory, attribute, metaphor, image, emblem, archetype, good luck charms, and signs—each individual idea can belong to an elite multi-disciplinary area of research. Perhaps this also explains many people’s attraction to and interest in symbols, most of which are derived from antiquity: that one might reflect on one’s roots, etc. If one then pursues the stream of these traditions to their sources, it becomes clearer with each step how manifold, entangled, contradictory and often inextricable symbolic expressions can be ... The word “symbol” is based on the Greek verb symballein, which means “to toss or join together.” At the same time, the verb was used to suggest a hiding or veiling: the sign, having become a symbol, therefore encoded or camouflaged the apparent meaning of an expression of that which was represented ... Symbolum also referred to those articles of faith of a religious community that were summarized in a few basic statements and always surrounded by something mysterious ... A selection is always a personal one, made consciously or unconsciously by the editor or reader. There neither can be nor will be absolute completeness, especially when one considers a geographical and temporal factor that often exists amidst centuries of change and extends over continents: the migration of symbols and their meanings has become one of the most exciting areas of research within modern interdisciplinary studies ...

In the Chevalier/Gheerbrant book, the editors say:

Symbols form an all-pervasive and potent part of our mental and emotional universes. This remarkable dictionary provides a rich inventory of symbols—of myths, dreams, images, story archetypes, plants and animals, whether religious, Freudian, artistic, or magical, from the ancient world (and all geographic locales) ... This book draws together folklore, literary and artistic sources, and focuses on the symbolic dimension of every color, number, sound, gesture, expression or character trait that has benefited from symbolic interpretation. The diversity of approach is a reflection of the phenomenal range of possible interpretations they offer.

I. Amber: can represent energy; solar, spiritual, and divine attraction. The word “electricity” is derived from the Greek name for yellow amber, electron. A frequent attribute of saints and heroes is a face the color of amber, the symbol of heaven reflected in their persons and in their power of attraction. Another Greek reference says that amber is an attribute of heavenly beings because “as being partly like silver, partly like gold, it denotes the incorruptible, as in gold, with unexpanded, undiminished, and spotless brilliancy, and the brightness as in silver and a luminous and celestial radiance.”

II. Jade: can represent vitality, cosmic energy; symbol of perfection and of the unification of the five heavenly virtues; it can represent immortality, long life. In Central America, jade was a symbol of the soul, the mind, and the heart. In Chinese tradition, jade is charged with “yang,” cosmic energy; and symbolizes power, beauty, perfection, righteousness, regeneration, as well as comfort and warmth. In Greek mythology, jade (especially white jade) had powers of healing, longevity, immortality, and rebirth.

III. Blue Sapphire: As the supremely celestial jewel, the sapphire was often considered “the jewel of hope;” it carried the aura of heavenly contemplation. In Medieval times, “such varied powers were attributed to the sapphire as to stave off poverty, protect against of the anger of others, against treason and the miscarriage of justice, to increase valor, joy and vitality, to drive away ill humour.” “Blue Sapphire,” according to one reference, is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “beloved.” Blue is the “deepest color; unimpeded, the gaze plumbs infinity, the color forever escaping it.” On the other hand, blue is the “most insubstantial of colors; it seldom occurs in the natural world except as a translucency, that is to say, as an accumulation of emptiness, the void of the heavens, of the depth of the sea; emptiness is austere, pure and frosty. Blue is the coldest of colors, and, in its absolute quality, the purest, apart from the total void of white ...” The Egyptians considered blue to be the color of truth. In Jewish folklore, “Luz,” the home of the immortals, is also called the “Blue City.” Tibetan Buddhists believe blue is the color of transcendant wisdom and potentiality ...

IV. Mauve: Mauve is either a shade of purple or violet. Purple was a symbol of power in many cultures; also of luxury and affluence. Violet, standing between blue and red, is a symbol of meditation, of balance between heaven and earth, mind and body, love and wisdom, of measure and moderation. It is the color of temperance, clarity of mind, fidelity, balance between sense and spirit, passion and reason, love and wisdom. It is also the color of secrecy and of moderation.

V. Ivy: Ivy is often a symbol of immortality. It stood for the eternal cycle of death and rebirth and the myth of the eternal homecoming. It also symbolized desire. In Etruscan art, it is often a symbol of procreation and sensuality and rebirth. It is also the symbol of friendship and fidelity—it was often presented to a bride and groom at their wedding in ancient Greece.

VI. Burgundy Red: Red denotes heat, intensity, passion; it can represent things dangerous or full of freedom. Red is the color of fire and blood and regarded universally as the basic symbol of the life principle, with its dazzling strength and power; nevertheless, it possesses the same symbolic ambivalence of danger or beauty, depending on whether the red is dark or bright. Burgundy is a combination of red and purple. The positive aspects include: life, love, warmth, passion, fertility; the negative aspects include: war, destruction, fire, spilling of blood, revolution, and evil. In Medieval alchemy, red was often thought to be the color of the Philosopher’s Stone, which was thought of as a stone that bore the sign of sunlight. Red can represent a bold color promising new beginning, new life, and warmth; it is also the color of wild explosiveness.

This just is the tip of the iceberg of the research into the psychology of color symbolism, and I’ve listed just a few of the symbols that colors have represented over time and in differing cultures. I hope you enjoy this and that it enhances your imagination about the music as you play Roger Cichy’s Colours.

—Laura Finkelstein

Colours by Roger Cichy was commissioned by the Kansas State University Bands, written in 1997, and premiered on May 10 of that year, with the composer conducting at KSU. Each of the six movements (Amber, Dark Jade, Blue Sapphire, Mauve, Dark Ivy, and Burgundy Red) go beyond the color itself, deeply delving into the symbolic meaning and “musical” pigment of each color. Each movement creates an impression of the color itself. Several movements employ jazz style, inflection, and harmony. Roger Cichy was guest conductor and commissioned composer for the 50th anniversary Concord Band celebration in 2009, conducting his outstanding commission Flowing Pens from Concord.



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