Inferno: The Nine Circles of Suffering
- Whitney George
Through the lens of Dante, Inferno: The Nine Circles of Suffering casts the experience of strife as a populated landscape, starkly contrasting the musical material of environments with that of their appointed stewards. In the former, the full force of the quartet gives us elemental brutality and relentless winds whose eternal playthings are the frustrated souls of the lustful; the searing heat of the Inner Ring of Violence, where specks of flame fall as needle-like pizzicato; the counterpoint that soars with ritual solemnity over the fearfully imposing stone pits of the Eighth Circle. These grand structures are contrasted with the more intimate encounters with hell's guardians, where improvisatory melodic lines assign theatrical character to Minos, Cerberus, Minotaur, and Geryon. Cruelty is thus ever-present while continually changing its shape. Within this grotesquery, however, there is something tenderly empathetic in the way these sounds unravel suffering to reveal its myriad forms. It is as if the composer sought to affirm that the inhabitants of hell had not been forgotten, offering as tribute a narrative account of the soul's unrest. Hell is presented as an unjust place, where punishment and crime are so hopelessly lost to one another, that all that remains for us to comprehend is the anguish of those imprisoned there. We cannot condemn the mournful violins of the Second Circle for their indiscretions; what divine jurisprudence deemed lust was, to a human being, nothing more than sincerity. Inferno leaves us with a coda, whose title alludes to the moment at which Dante and Virgil emerge to behold an early morning sky still teeming with stars. The movement is saturated with familiar material, but its character is unmistakably that of the opening, Limbo. Perhaps this is to temper our relief; the night sky is quieter than hell, but its silent inhabitants are as remote as the souls of the dead. Any gesture we offer toward them must end unfinished, frozen as a tribute that is, at best, a surrogate for comfort.