Length: 20 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (1st and 2nd = piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, percussion (bass drum, bongos, brake drums, chimes, cymbals, glockenspiel, gong, lion's roar, log drum, snare drum, tam-tam, temple blocks, tom-toms, vibraphone, wood blocks, xylophone), 2 pianos, cimbalom, guitar, bass guitar, strings (no violas), and solo voice
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (U.S. premiere)
Racconto dall'Inferno received its world premiere in Cologne in October 2004. Reinbert de Leeuw conducted the Ensemble musikFabrik and Cristina Zavalloni was the soloist. The composer has provided the following note:
"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 Malacoda 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 criticize them) is a challenge I do not want to avoid anymore. Cristina Zavalloni's poly-interpretable appearance and singing style is very helpful to realize my musical intentions."