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Every now and then a piece of music is created that opens a door into a new aesthetic area, and NEFERTARI, by Paul Sánchez, is one such piece. It’s a bold and visionary work, epic in scope, that takes the listener on a vast inner journey. This is a liminal piece that is on the threshold to another world, and it has a spiritual quality that can be heard in some of Sánchez’s other compositions.

The shape of the music is unrepentantly daring; stitching together fragments that create a vast canvas of sound. Whilst the soprano line twists and turns in sensuous arabesques the piano is unlike any piano one has heard before - a cosmic soundbox resonating in space and time; a psychopomp which guides the voice through a slowly unfolding ritual. The clusters, plucked strings, re-tuning of the notes, and use of the sistrum, are entirely integral and necessary to the artistic conception.

The effect of the music is both contemporary and ancient, and it cycles through passages of meditative calm and dramatic outbursts. The journey may be unfamiliar, as many pieces of music normally arise from a historical praxis (e.g. the symphony) where expectations on first listening will be guided by other works. In the case of NEFERTARI, we enter a new territory, and with no map to help us. The lodestar that keeps us on course is the beauty and drama of the music, which follows its own predestined pathway into eternity.

–– Graham Lynch, Foreword to NEFERTARI


Sánchez' composition NEFERTARI was a project spanning almost half a decade, with its genesis in the news of a family member's illness, and its working out a process of descent, new understanding, and transcendence. NEFERTARI is a musical transmutation of Queen Nefertari’s tomb, a space designed as a liminal zone between worlds, a bridge between the physical and the spiritual. The three-movement, sixty-two-minute work for soprano, prepared piano, and sistrum is sung in ancient Egyptian - translated, transliterated, and vocalized for this project in a monumental effort in collaboration with Egyptologists Gonzalo Sánchez and Edmund Meltzer - from the hieroglyphs covering the walls of Nefertari’s tomb.

Sánchez composed NEFERTARI over a four-and-a-half year period, from 2018–2022. He spent the first year in research, studying ancient Egyptian religious practices and artistic conventions; annotated English translations of funerary and religious texts; overviews of various aspects of daily life in ancient Egypt; an introduction to hieroglyphs; an ancient Egyptian-English dictionary; historical novels set in the New Kingdom; and overviews of the Valley of the Queens, including detailed analyses of Nefertari’s tomb, with photographs and illustrations.

While researching, he began to formulate a plan for the architecture of the piece. As this plan developed over the course of several months, he sent regular updates to Drs. Meltzer and Sánchez, so that they could begin the process of translating the portions of the tomb that would be embodied in the musical work. As it turned out, that included most of the tomb, and their efforts, correspondingly, were monumental.


For any given passage, Drs. Meltzer and Sánchez first created transliterations of the hieroglyphs in alphabetic symbols, then wrote English translations. Over the course of several months, as they completed portions of the tomb, they would send the composer regular updates with the newly transliterated and translated material. Upon receiving a portion of text, he began the process of creating a vocalization of the transliteration based on various sources, including, among others, James Allen’s An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs and a book chapter by Stuart Tyson Smith. Phone conversations with Dr. Meltzer allowed him to read portions of his vocalizations to Meltzer aloud so that he could suggest corrections or improvements. Kayleen Sánchez then transcribed Paul's vocalizations into International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols.


The rest of the composition process unfolded through September of 2022, with the final score of NEFERTARI, including front matter written by Paul Sánchez and Dr. Edmund Meltzer, covering 250 pages.

Click here to read Sánchez' "Reflections on NEFERTARI," from the Preface and Introduction of NEFERTARI.

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The illustrated score

The score of NEFERTARI is illustrated with images from Nefertari's House of Eternity.

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At the piano

Sánchez using a plectrum inside the piano while performing NEFERTARI. Vinyl screws are visible between some of the strings.

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Re attended by Isis and Nephthys

The painting central to Sánchez' conception of Nefertari's House of Eternity, which would come to generate the musical motivic DNA from which the entire musical work would develop.

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