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A Symphony to Dante's Divina Commedia

Franz Liszt
(1811-86)



1. Inferno.
2. Purgaturio. Magnificat.

Liszt's symphony to the "Divina Commedia" of Dante is in two parts, "Inferno" and "Purgatorio"; though by the introduction of the Magnificat after the Finale to the "Purgatorio," the composer also indicates the other division of the poem, the "Paradiso." The "Inferno" opens at once with a characteristic phrase for the bass instruments with a crashing accompaniment, announcing in recitative the inscription over the door of hell: "Per mi si va nella città dolente" ("Through me pass on to horror's dwelling place"), whereupon the trombones and horns sound out the well-known warning, "Lasciate ogni speranza" ("All ye who enter here, leave hope behind"). After the enunciation of the curse the composer paints the infernal scenes with all the fury and barbarity of which apparently music is capable. Unnatural combinations, chromatic phrases, grating dissonances, and weird cries picture the horror and suffering of the damned amid which the curse appears with literally "damnable iteration." In the midst of all this din, however, there is a lull. Amid the tinkling of harps and graceful figures for the strings and flutes, the bass clarinet intones a recitative (the "Nessun maggior dolore," of the original), and the English horn replies, the two instruments joining in a dialogue which tells the mournful fate of Paolo and Francesca da Rimini. At its close the curse sounds again, and the movement comes to a close amid the shrieks and blasphemies of the damned in an Allegro frenetico which is graphic enough not to need words.

The second movement, "Purgatorio," opens with a quiet, restful theme in choral style, its soft and gentle melody picturing that period of expectancy which is the prelude to the enjoyments of Paradise. It is followed by a masterly fugue expressive of resignation and melancholy. Before it closes the first theme returns again and peacefully dies away, leading to the Finale. A solo followed by a chorus chants the Magnificat in the old classic style. All the resources of the orchestra are employed in enhancing the effect of the chant, and the work comes to a close with imposing Hosannas. For this Finale Liszt has written two endings - the one dying softly away like music heard from a distance, the other full of ecstasy and ending with a mighty Hallelujah.





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