When complete, the entire cycle will consist of twenty-two short pieces (ranging between a minute and a half and five minutes in duration) each bearing a one-to-one correlation to a trump card in the Tarot of Marseille. When complete, the cycle is meant to represent the portion of a deck of Tarot cards known as the Major Arcana, and (at my suggestion in the notes to the performer) may be performed either in its entirety as a cycle or in any special order, analogous to drawing cards from the deck.
The title, "Le Mat," is an alternate name for the card more commonly known as "The Fool," meaning madman. While this card is typically arranged as the first card in the deck, its numerical value is actually zero, and it is said to exist outside the sequence as both the first and the last card, since the Fool is said to represent either an oblivious, carefree and dangerous nature or an elevated state of enlightenment, beyond the deceptions of the material world. He is also thought of as the initiate into the Mysteries, who journeys East in search of the illuminating light of the spiritual Sun, which the Alchemists sought to crystallize into its physical form of gold.
The Tarot is not a profane system of fortune-telling born out of foolish superstition and adapted from a card game. It is, in fact, a card oracle, the purpose of which is to reveal to the neophyte inner truths that may be obscured by an undisciplined mind, or what the Buddhists refer to as the dust of the physical world. To understand this concept, one need only contemplate the slogan that was inscribed above the entrance to the great Classical oracles, which was "Know Thyself." The Tarot is said to be a pictographic encyclopedia of the ancient tenets of Wisdom that built these oracles, and have been handed down from Antiquity by the Magi of Egypt, Persia, Greece and so on, in the form of Hermetic Philosophy.
The process of laying Tarot cards is dependent not only upon the individual meaning of each card, but on the position and order in which the cards are drawn. The same card placed in different positions can drastically alter the potential meaning of a particular laying. So, in the movies when the old gypsy woman draws "Death" or "The Devil" from the pack and chokes out a, wet, mortified gasp before assessing its place amongst the others, it is probably more an indication that she doesn't know much about Tarot cards than that her subject should cancel his upcoming travel plans.
Even more critical to some methods of laying the Tarot, is what is known as the quintessence, which is the underlying meaning of the entire laying and is typically derived from the occult significance of the number determined by the sum of the numbers marked on each card. If the sequence of the cards tells a particular story, then the quintessence is like its moral. I am rather fond of Dictionary.com's number two definition: "The most perfect embodiment of something."
This brings a much more compelling potential in performance to my piano cycle. If the performer chooses to select movements at random, the resulting series should be heard as a single work, unified by its quintessence, rather than as distinct and separate movements. The performer is therefore creating an unique new work, with a very special meaning unto itself, again analogous to a Tarot laying, the true meaning of which may only be gleaned by the subject's own personal revelations. Alternatively, a performance of the entire cycle, end-to-end, will have no meaning at all, and represent the raw, material elements that bear only the potential to be organized into meaning by our perception (the job of the "Magician," the second card in the Major Arcana). This concept bears a distinct resemblance to the relationship of "chaos" and "order" metaphorically represented by Chinese Tai Chi and the associated Taoist principles outlined in classics such as the I Ching. It is also a metaphor for the creation of the Universe, unless you believe in Rainbow Gravity.
Anyway, for a more detailed overview of the Tarot, I would strongly recommend Hajo Banzhaf's simple treatise, "Tarot for Everyone," which is a fun read and a great reference. In order of complexity, I would also suggest Manly P. Hall's essay on The Tarot and finally the befuddling classic "Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages," by Paul Foster Case. Whatever your beliefs and however far you choose to take it, it's pretty amazing stuff. That said, I would prescribe a balanced approach and pull a quote from Banzhaf's book, "The Tarot is a good servant, but a poor master."
I plan to make the sheet music for each individual movement available for sale in the coming weeks on my soon-to-be-launched store page. I am hoping this work will be a hit among ambitious pianists. A commercial recording is also in the works, once Book II is complete and recorded early next Fall.
In the meantime, please enjoy listening to Book I of "Le Mat: XXII Arcana" in the playlist below!