Texts from and around Canto XXI of Dante's Inferno (I)
My collaboration with the Italian singer Cristina Zavalloni has so far resulted in four pieces based on Italian texts. The advantage of hearing Cristina singing in her mother language was one of the important reasons for me to write another piece using an Italian text, this time being a fragment (primarily Canto 21) from Dante’s Inferno. La Commedia - I prefer to use Dante’s original title, as ‘Divine’ has been added long after his death - is a book which has been part of my life for more than 25 years. It combines complexity, intellectualism, horror, beauty, multi-layeredness, allusions, historical and mythological references, and, above all, irony.
In Canto 21, one of the leading devils, Malacoda, tells Dante and Virgil to take a different route to go to the next circle, because a certain bridge has collapsed. They are afraid to follow his advice, so Malecoda offers an escort of ten devils to accompany them. The calling of the ten devils by their names is the core of the piece. After the famous trumpeting of Malacoda, they go on their way with this ‘ferocious company’, musically supported by a strange sort of medieval March with suggestive silences.
What does that mean, suggestive? I am fully aware of the fact that any music can support any image, but it’s also obvious that different kinds of music can give different meanings to that image.
Imagine a young girl walking through a blossoming cornfield. Accompanied by sentimental romantic string orchestra music: she will be in love. Accompanied by gangster-film music: she is probably on her way to kill her father.
To go even further: any music can express any text. Nobody can tell you how jealousy sounds, or desire. However it is certainly possible to write music which evokes emotions, drama, or beauty, or a story. There are no definite laws telling us which music belongs to which emotions.
To deal with certain conventions of what we might call ‘narrative’ music (and in the meantime criticise them) is a challenge I do not want to avoid anymore. Cristina Zavalloni’s poly-interpretable appearance and singing style is very helpful to realise my musical intentions.
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer
“Andriessen is on true form with the kind of mighty blows that recall the earlier works De Materie and Rosa… Superbly orchestrated as always…”
“Long descending lines at the beginning symbolise the descent to the churning, seething hell-fire, depicted in Andriessen’s familiarly jagged, restless style... The work’s sound quality is unmistakably Andriessen: robust chords; lusty, piercing winds; and above all, unbridled energy.”