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Symphony No. 1 (Robert W. Smith)

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Robert W. Smith

Robert W. Smith


Subtitle: The Divine Comedy


General Info

Year: 1994-1997
Duration: c. 25:05
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Alfred Music Publishing

Individual movements are published and available separately.


Movements

1. The Inferno – 7:20
2. Purgatorio – 6:55
3. The Ascension – 6:05
4. Paradiso – 4:45


Instrumentation

Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
Bassoon
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Contra-Alto Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II (I doubling B-flat Soprano Saxophone)
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
Euphonium
Tuba
Piano (doubling Celesta)
Timpani (5 drums)
Percussion I-II-III-IV, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Beaded Gourd (large)
  • Bells
  • Chimes
  • Congas (2)
  • Crash Cymbals (2 pairs)
  • Crotales (both octaves)
  • Heavy Chain
  • Marimba
  • Snare Drum
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Taiko Drums (2; optional low Tom-toms)
  • Tam-tam
  • Tambourine
  • Tom-toms (2)
  • Triangle
  • Vibraphone (2 players; 2 bows required)
  • Water-Filled Crystals (2: pitched in C)
  • Whip
  • Wind Chimes
  • Xylophone


Errata

Refer to each individual movement for errata detail.


Program Notes

The Divine Comedy is a four-movement work based on Dante Alighieri's literary classic of the same name. The story of Dante's trilogy is basic: One day Dante finds himself lost in a dark wood. Virgil, a character based on the revered Roman poet, appears and rescues him. Virgil guides Dante to a contemplation of Hell and Purgatory. Dante, having confessed his faults, and with Beatrice as his guide, is led into Paradise and attains a glimpse of the face of God.

I. THE INFERNO. The first of four movements in The Divine Comedy. Dante's vision of hell consists of nine concentric circles divided into four categories of sin. The principal theme behind the literary work is the concept of symbolic retribution. In other words, man's eternal damnation in Hell is directly correlated to the character and weight of his sin on earth.

Like Dante's Inferno, the movement is divided into four sections. The opening melodic statement in the oboe represents the sins of "incontinence". As Dante finishes his relatively short journey through the sections of The Inferno, he is confronted with the Wall of Dis (the gate into Hell). The next section is structured around the sins of "violence" with its incredibly intense storms and fiery sands. The crimes of "ordinary fraud" follow the violent sinners. The composer used the sin of hypocrisy as visual imagery in the formation of this section of the musical work. Dante describes the hypocrites as they file endlessly in a circle, clothed in coats of lead, which represent the weight of the hypocrisy on earth.

The final section of The Inferno features the sins of "treacherous fraud." As Dante enters this circle of Hell, he hears the dreadful blast of a bugle. "Not even Roland's horn, which followed on the sad defeat when Charlemagne had lost his holy arm, was as dread as this." Dante and Virgil are lowered into the last section of Hell by giants who are constantly pelted with bolds of thunder. As their journey nears the end, they are confronted with the sight of Dis (Lucifer), whose three mouths are eternally rending Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. Dante and Virgil climb down the flanks of Lucifer, exiting to the other hemisphere and leaving the fiery world of The Inferno behind.

II. PURGATORIO. The second of four movements in The Divine Comedy. Dante, having completed his journey through The Inferno, is brought by Virgil to the shores of the island mountain, Purgatory, in the midst of the southern ocean. The mountain is comprised of seven terraces, each representing one of "seven deadly sins." In each terrace, sinners are given an appropriate penance which is symbolically tied to their transgressions on earth. The sufferings endured are accepted voluntarily by the spirits in atonement for their sins. The composer has woven together musical elements which depict each of the sins of the seven terraces. For example, the sin of the first terrace is "pride." The souls plod slowly around the mountain, bowed double by huge rocks on their backs. As the composition develops, the sounds of lamenting souls, dragging their heavy loads, can be heard against the haunting melodic line.

The souls of Purgatory are often musical beings: they express their sensations in songs, hymns, and psalms. Purgatory is the realm of hope, where the proud, envious, wrathful, slothful, prodigal (avaricious), gluttonous, and lustful may atone for their sins on earth. As Dante and Virgil continue up the mountain, they feel a violent quaking at which all of the spirits proclaim "Gloria in exceslis Deo!" (Glory to Gold in the highest). Dante learns that the quaking signals the completion of one soul's penance, for which all other souls give thanks. The completion of the penance allows the soul to ascend to "Paradiso" (heaven), taking his or her rightful position in relation to God.

III. THE ASCENSION. The third of four movements in The Divine Comedy. The movement begins with Dante on the Mountain of Purgatory. Having been instructed and purified in Purgatory, he is prepared for his journey to Paradise. Beatrice, his guide, lifts her eyes toward the sun. Following her example, Dante looks to the sun and is at the moment transformed ("trans-humanized") in preparation for his great adventure. He is surprised to discover wonderful music, the music of the spheres, surrounding them. Swifter than thought, their flight of incredible speed begins. Dante and Beatrice, accompanied by sounds of wondrous beauty and intensity, ascend to the Sphere of Fire.

IV. PARADISO. The final movement of The Divine Comedy. In the composition of Paradiso, the composer was faced with the same basic problem which confronted Dante in his literary masterpiece. What description of heaven will have a universal appeal? The sensory experiences on which Dante built his heaven were sights and sounds. The sights consisted of brilliant lights with varied colors, symbolic formations, and combined with their hypnotic gyrations. The sound were those of the imagination, conjured by the reader's own past experienced with unheard melodies "sweeter than those heard on earth." It was Dante's hope that scenes presented to our imagination through the language of poetry may surpass the remembered scenes of own experiences.

In Paradiso, Dante has ascended at an incredible speed from the top of the Mountains of Purgatory to the first sphere of the heavens. He is enamored with the sight of light, growing brighter and more tense with each sphere of his journey. The composer has called upon the mallet percussion represent those beams of light. Beginning with a single tone (beam), the intensity grows with each entrance until we are surrounding by lights of multiple colors and complexities. As the light engulfs the listener, we are presented with the sounds of joy, peace, love and hope...growing ever brighter as the journey through the spheres progresses.

As the listener arrives at the Empyrean (the region of pure light), the "Music of the Spheres," first introduced in The Ascension (Mvt. III), is restated in brilliant fashion by the brass section. The light continues to intensify as the woodwind colors swirl around the brass figures. The sights and sounds grow even brighter as Dante sees a river of light which is transformed into a great rose whose center is the wonderful source of the lights. Upon the petals are seated the saints, clad in the whitest of robes. Angels fly, like swarms of bees, up from the heart of the rose to the petals, their faces of living flames, their wings of gold, their bodies white as the purest snow. Dante looks to the highest tier, where Mary sits enthroned, surrounded by a thousand joyful angels. Mary is surrounded by heroines of the Old Testament: Eve, Rachel, Sarah, Rebecca, Judith, and Ruth. On Mary's opposite side are the male figures of the Christian era: John the Baptist, St. Francis, St. Benedict, and St. Augustine, and well as Adam, Peter, Moses, and John the Apostle. The lower tiers of the rose are filled with thousands of infants, purified in their glorious innocence.

With a gracious smile from the Virgin Mary, Dante is permitted the Beatific Vision. He lifts his eyes toward the heart of the rose. Within one blinding light, he recognized three separate lights in the form of interlocking circles (a symbol of the Trinity). Within one circle he perceived the dim image of a human face, a reminder that God, through Christ, lived––and still lives––as man on earth.

- Program Note by composer


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