Ronald Pearl, My Name Is Red

Ronald Pearl (b. 1954)

My Name Is Red

My Name Is Red is titled after a novel by Nobel-winning Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk’s book, a profound meditation on style, memory, and the vocation of the artist, employs the device of multiple narrators, as successive chapters are told through the eyes of each of the main characters, mostly manuscript illuminators in the old Ottoman Empire. Some of the artists’ own paintings, one of which consists only of a splotch of red ink, even take turns as narrator (hence the title). The main plot thread of the story concerns whether the painters would betray their artistic and religious traditions by adopting the innovations of Italian Renaissance painting, such as linear perspective and individualized portraits, recently introduced to Istanbul through trade with Venice. This sense of multiple viewpoints and cultural mixing carries over into Pearl’s musical rendition. Much of the piece is based on the same chord progression, treated in various styles from a Venetian barcarolle (with a quote from Mendelssohn’s “Venetian Boat Song,” Op. 19 No. 6) to textures suggestive of Middle Eastern and Central Asian plucked instruments such as the saz or bağlama. According to Pearl, these serve “to evoke the musical traditions that developed throughout the Islamic world.”

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