The Enûma Eliš is a thousand lines Babylonian creation myth, named on its opening words “when on high”. The epic is one of the most important sources for understanding the Babylonian worldview. British composer and conductor Will Frampton has written a song cycle based on extracts of the ancient myth, in the original language. An awarded artist, Frampton ran Wild Street Ensemble which premiered the work in 2016. One year later, Enûma Eliš was recorded by soprano Rachel Duckett and the Marsyas Trio—flute, cello and piano.
Enûma Eliš is a work in three parts that follows the narrative of the universe’s origin. Structured around an instrumental introduction—that sets the haunting ambience of the musical work, reflecting the creation as described in the myth—an interlude—for flute and cello—and alternating parts between extracts of the tablets’s script and incantations—where Rachel Ducket interprets the 12th Century BCE text in its original and extinct Babylonian language, a creative choice from Frampton that emphasises the dramatic and mysterious aspect of the work.
Following the canons of contemporary classical—expressive—music, each tablet and incantation illustrates a part of the myth—whether it is before the advent of anything, or through the rise of the Marduk god to the position of the head of the Babylonian pantheon. Frampton compositional style is harmonically and rhythmically complex, but remains strongly suggestive—in particular through the exploration of atonality, limited pitched melodies and rhythmic cells.
Will Frampton’s daring Enûma Eliš is a fantastic piece of work that surprises by its originality—due to bold creative choices, from the subject to the interpretation of the myth, reflecting the contemporary works of 20th Century European composers and avant-gardistes—and impeccable musical performance both from the Marsyas Trio, and Rachel Duckett. While I tend to favour music that leans towards strong melodical content and discreet harmonic choices, Enûma Eliš has grabbed my attention in a powerful way and has triggered my interest for contemporary composers such as Frampton.