Contributed by Dien Ho
“In 1996-98 I was the producer for an audio-book version of Dante’s Divine Comedy, in a new English translation by Benedict Flynn. The reader was Heathcote Williams, and when we came to record Canto 33 of Inferno, I found myself transported by the power and emotion of his reading. It occurred to me that afternoon, that one day I would like to make a musical setting of these verses.
The opportunity to realise this project came last year, when the Hilliard Ensemble invited me to compose something for them, and this was the project I proposed to them. Ugolino’s monologue in Canto 33 is remarkable within the context of the Divine Comedy, in that it is the only time we are given a full account of a personal story: elsewhere we are given snippets or allusions, but Dante does not make time to re-iterate tales he believes we should know already. In this case, the scenario clearly took hold of his imagination: a traitor imprisoned with his entire family, and eventually condemned to starve to death together in their sealed tower. Dante has Ugolino tell his own story simply, calmly and in pathetic detail.
I have begun the drama as Dante first encounters the frozen lake which lies at the bottom of the pit of Hell, cutting a few lines from time to time en route to Ugolino’s story, which I have set complete. My primary concern has been to keep Dante’s words clear at all times, and thus you will find in this ‘contemporary’ music many devices more usually encountered in music of much earlier times.I hope that I have been able to do this without wasting the incredible talents of the Hilliard Ensemble. The challenge for them is less in the notes they have to sing, than in the large number of words which I ask them to enunciate with expression, but also with maximum clarity. And that is my suggestion to you: that you do not close your eyes and let the sound of the music drift over you, but that you accompany Dante on this section of his journey, line by line.” –Roger Marsh, 2008
“Dante: no other medieval author continues to exert such an extraordinary force on the modern imagination. Those who’ve read his Comedia never recover; those who’ve never read him still feel like they know the Inferno, and because it has become such a cultural norm, they probably do know it. At Cambridge, Prof. Robin Kirkpatrick has been undertaking a massive critical and creative engagement with Dante over the past couple of years in a project entitled Performance, as well as a conference at CRASSH entitled Pain in Performance and ‘Moving Beauty’. This year, on October 30th, Performance 2010 will further explore Dante and other texts in a series of performances, music, dance, art and drawings.” [. . .] —Miglior Acque, October 22, 2010
Contributed by Patrick Molloy
Photo contributed by Ben Le Hay (Bowdoin, ’08)
Dante’s Inferno has been extensively illustrated, with accompanying notes, by Fabrica, a brand new book published by Mondadori, appearing in bookstores from May 25, 2010. More than 300 illustrations, all hand-made using different techniques and all accompanied by in-depth notation: a meticulous work, which gives the reader a fresh and original interpretation of one of the greatest masterpieces of everlasting literature. Fabrica assigned this project to two young English artists, Patrick Waterhouse and Walter Hutton.
Watch the making of the book on Vimeo.
Contributed by Patrick Molloy