The Memory Palace

flute, cello, and piano (1990)

Elizabeth Brown, flute; Greg Hesselink, cello; Margaret Kampmeier, piano

from Blue Minor: Chamber Music by Elizabeth Brown Troy 627

duration: 9:39

program note

Many of my compositions are inspired by books or pieces of art – I read something, or see a picture, and hear music. The Memory Palace was inspired by Jonathan Spence’s book on the life of Matteo Ricci, a sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary to China. Ricci developed a system of mnemonics that he called the memory palace in which material to be memorized was linked to locations within elaborate, imaginary architectural structures; someone’s own palace would be built, or imagined, with a layout and furnishings that were especially resonant for them. The Chinese loved mnemonic devices; Ricci thought he could win them over with his system, then convert them to Christianity. They did like the memory system, but for the most part had no interest in converting, and Ricci lived a sad, odd, mostly solitary life in China.

My memory palace is a small, personal palace, and I imagine Ricci walking through it; he had a limp from an old foot injury that makes some of the rhythms lopsided. Then, I imagine him floating along as his vivid imagination, along with his faith, lets him soar.