b Riding East: September 2006

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Opus 7: Inferno III: nè allegro nè lento

I've written a first draft to another movement of an orchestral work composed to text from Dante's Inferno. It remains in draft form and is incomplete. I continue working on the first movement as well. Sadly, I report I also continue working on Purgatorio, in particular the Femmina Balba works. So much to do, so little time, and two young children...

Inferno III: nè allegro nè lento
Inferno III draft score

I've attached the Original sketch as a reference.

Divine Comedy
Inferno, Canto III, 34:69
Copyright © Princeton Dante Project

And he to me: 'This miserable state is borne
by the wretched souls of those who lived
without disgrace yet without praise.

'They intermingle with that wicked band
of angels, not rebellious and not faithful
to God, who held themselves apart.

'Loath to impair its beauty, Heaven casts them out,
and depth of Hell does not receive them
lest on their account the evil angels gloat.'

And I: 'Master, what is so grievous to them,
that they lament so bitterly?'
He replied: 'I can tell you in few words.

'They have no hope of death,
and their blind life is so abject
that they are envious of every other lot.

'The world does not permit report of them.
Mercy and justice hold them in contempt.
Let us not speak of them -- look and pass by.'

And I, all eyes, saw a whirling banner
that ran so fast it seemed as though
it never could find rest.

Behind it came so long a file of people
that I could not believe
death had undone so many.

After I recognized a few of these,
I saw and knew the shade of him
who, through cowardice, made the great refusal.

At once with certainty I understood
this was that worthless crew
hateful alike to God and to His foes.

These wretches, who never were alive,
were naked and beset
by stinging flies and wasps

that made their faces stream with blood,
which, mingled with their tears,
was gathered at their feet by loathsome worms.

The structure of the piece more or less attempts to follow a braided rope. I've tried to construct an harmonic model for this piece, derived from standard tonal theory but using a system of diatonic inversions. The idea is to create a four part harmony and complement that harmony with an inverted four part harmony in a related key. The inversions wrap around the initial harmony to form the structure of the rope. The inversions and the original harmony move to related keys, different registers, and/or timbres to facilitate the braided structure.

I define a diatonic inversion as follows:

I -> VIII (I)
ii -> vii
iii -> vi
IV -> V
V -> IV

Some special cases:

N (flatted II) -> vii
ii diminished -> VII
ii minor -> vii diminished

Again, the attempt is a diatonic inversion (versus a more precise twelve-tone inversion).

For the sake of these examples, consider a simple base progression as follows:

I V/iii VI/iii iii V I

I use three diatonic inversions in this piece, defined below:

parallel inversion

I V/vi VI/vi vi IV I

So, the notion of a secondary dominant is preserved, but it applies instead to the inversion of iii, or vi.

single inversion

I IV/iii iii/iii iii V I

double inversion

I IV/vi VI/vi vi IV I

For example, if I use the simple base progression above (I V/iii ...) in C major, I map the inverted harmony (parallel or single or double) to d minor. Noting the overtone technique in Inferno: Andante Agitato, I keep the inverted harmony (usually) a couple registers above the base harmony. The first few bars of the piece actually begin in these keys; the progression is slightly more sophisticated. In subsequent bars, the base harmony moves to e minor, and I introduce a second inversion on D, etc.

I know I'm really pushing the violist in this piece, but God knows they don't get enough interesting work compared to the violins. And I want a strained sound in the upper registers, which is why the viola may reach above the violins. I maintain some elements from the first movement, including a simple, resigned vocal line with more complex harmonic movement in strings & brass.