Dante's Descent

Dante’s Descent is based on parts of Dante’s novel. It is a musical sketch of the composers imagination of the fist part: Inferno.

The book Inferno by Dante Alghieri and allusion to it in popular culture has always been a sort of fascination with me. With the help of images by Gustave Doré I made a semi-programmatic piece about six scenes from the book, in each scene the general atmosphere is described. The scenes are: the dark forest, the entrance to hell, the river Styx, the city Dis, the ninth circle of Hell and finally the last sentence in the book: “we emerged, to see-once more-the stars.”

The work starts with an opening statement by the baritone and cornet, as if to launch the audience into the world that is Dante. This statement also concludes the piece: giving it an idea of opening and closing a book.

The first scene has some aleatoric elements setting a dark mood. The main melodic material is presented. A melody that underpins the whole work, a motive referring to  the ninth circle. The mood gets darker and eventually erupts in a high energy fast scene.

Hearts starts racing a we descent into the underworld rhythmic disruptive elements give a sense of the coming darkness. Marked ‘Violento’, this is not for the faint hearted. The pace settles down as we become used to being in Inferno.

The following scene gives a view of the river Styx, with its lost soul. A very sorrowful quirky waltz sets the stage for the cornet solo. Very thick bubbles keep popping up out of the dreadful water for an unsettling effect. The trombone takes over the solo and leads the way to the e flat bass cadenza. Again free elements remind us of the start of the journey. Then the moods gets darker as the city of Hell, Dis, approaches.

This scene is a very ostinato and driving section. This is a very threatening and dark place. The musical texture is totally different. It does not take long for the end of this section is in sight and a glimmer of hope is noticeable in the music.

The biggest hellish noise of the percussion section leads leads the audience to the cold place that is the ninth circle of Hell. Cocytus is a frozen lake in the ninth circle of Hell, and is the slow section of the piece. Solo’s for trombone, repiano cornet and solo cornet give different souls a voice. Here we encounter a three headed Satan, portrayed by the trombones (who else?). And after the Ascend out of Hell and the turning of the earth’s magnetic field, giving Dante the feeling he is walking back to Hell, the exit is found.

The last scene is a very hopeful one, with a lot of upbeat music. Although the haunting memory of Hell is still present.

Listen to a recording of Dante’s Descent.