2007 (12 mins)

Composed for: Works for 2 - 6 Players

First performed: The Johannes String Quartet, 7 February 2008

Instrumentation: string quartet

Commissioned with a lead gift from The Islip Arts Council and Lillian & Maurice Barbash and support from Orange Country Performing Artscenter, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and Martha and Frank Salomon. 
Salonen: Homunculus is a short (circa 12 minutes) work for string quartet, which I wrote during the autumn months of 2007 for the Johannes Quartet. 

I wanted to compose a piece that would be very compact in form and duration, but still contain many different characters and textures. In other words, a little piece that behaves like a big piece.

I have long been fascinated (and amused) by the arcane spermists’ theory, who held the belief that the sperm was in fact a "little man" (homunculus) that was placed inside a woman for growth into a child. This seemed to them to neatly explain many of the mysteries of conception. It was later pointed out that if the sperm was a homunculus, identical in all but size to an adult, then the homunculus may have sperm of its own. This led to a reductio ad absurdum, with an endless chain of homunculi. This was not necessarily considered by spermists a fatal objection however, as it neatly explained how it was that "in Adam" all had sinned: the whole of humanity was already contained in his loins. 

I decided to call my piece Homunculus despite the obvious weaknesses of the spermists’ thinking, as I find the idea of a perfect little man strangely moving.

Published by: Chester Music Limited

Copyright: Esa-Pekka Salonen