HAPPENED TODAY - On January 18, 1840, the composer Ernst Rudorff was born in Berlin

“Canto V”: Scene from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno for four cellos

2021 will be in Italy and in the world the year of Dante’s celebrations: occur in fact, the seven hundred years since the death of the great poet. On the occasion of these celebrations, initiatives are planned throughout the peninsula and obviously, in particular, in the city of Florence (at the Uffizi, the Galilei Museum, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Theater, the National Theater of Tuscany, the University of Florence, the Dante Society, the State Archives, the Institute of Renaissance Studies, the Casa di Dante Museum , the Casa Buonarroti Museum.) and, of course, in Ravenna (where is born the Ravenna Project for Dante joining the Dante Alighieri Society, the Classense Library Institution, the City Art Museum Institution, the Cassa di Risparmio Foundation adhere, the Accademia della Crusca, the Dante Center of the Friars Minor, the University of Bologna, the RavennAntica Foundation, the Dante in Rete Association, the Born to Read Association). Furthermore, in many other cities around the world, people are preparing to celebrate this anniversary. Also www.mycello.it wants to remember this anniversary by proposing an article dedicated to the recent composition “Canto V” by Maestro Francesco Tanzi, who, with the Quartetto Zuena and with this piece, recently won the 2021 edition of the Loiacono Prize. “Canto V” is inspired by Dante’s Canto V of Inferno and represents a heartfelt transposition of the poem into music. We propose the presentation of this musical-literary path written by the author himself.
Canto V by Francesco Tanzi was born with the primary objective of creating a celebration of the great Italian poet 700 years after his death. Dante Alighieri’s work is still today the most lucid snapshot of a remote time in which the foundations of the culture, identity, and language of our country were laid, as well as one of the highest examples of stylistic elegance, edgy satire, and narrative architecture. And it is precisely this narrative and scenographic aspect that Tanzi tries to translate into musical notation, creating a piece that holds together the homage to the composers who have made Dante characters the protagonists of their works and the ambition of a performance with a representative and informative.
The first compositional choice in this direction is to associate a character from Canto V of the Divine Comedy with each of the four cellos of the ensemble. Thus the fourth cello musically interprets the character of Minòs, the third cello Virgilio, the second Dante, and the first Francesca. Therefore, there is no hierarchical structure between the four instruments, but each becomes the protagonist according to the episode represented. A second element can be identified in the structure of the composition: Canto V is a durchkomponiert piece in which a more linear form is preferred to a “strophic” form that allows to better adapt the flow of music to the fluidity of Dante’s triplets. A general identity of the piece is however guaranteed by the repetition of thematic elements characterizing the individual characters. The last element to consider is that of strict adherence to the text of the Comedy. The piece, in fact, not only carefully follows the alternation of the scenes in the Canto, but adheres completely to Dante’s hendecasyllables, even making the cellos spell single rhymes. In other words, the verses do not constitute the pretext, but the mere text of the music, almost like a libretto.
The first 5 measures of the piece correspond to the first triplet of the Canto. The “Thus descended into the first circle” is narrated by the second cello which with a chromatic trend in triplets – characteristic of the cello-Dante for the entire duration of the piece – descends towards a C # minor chord. Thus appears the growl of Minòs and his girding “with his tail as many times / however degrees he wants [the ill-born soul] to be put down” is represented by the cello fourth with groups of a variable number of strung and accented fourths. In measures 9-17, the souls that “go each other” appear in a canon involving the first three instruments. Minòs (vlc. IV) notes Dante and Virgil (bb. 17-24) and breaks into a scenographic recitative with a sinister and inquisitive character. The response of the third cello in the next nine measures is, on the contrary, noble and solemn, and his “Why while crying?” is rendered in music with a cantabile in E flat major.
This is followed by the episode of the “infernal storm” (bb. 41-106) heralded by the “painful notes” and the “mugghia [re]” of the cave in which the protagonists appear. The section proposes the theme of the ill-born souls encountered at the beginning, which is varied and modified due to the fact that the same souls are overwhelmed and fought “by contrary winds”. In measures 109-111 Dante (vlc. II) questions his teacher by asking: “who are those / people who are chastised by the black aura?.. Virgil’s answer (vlc III) is an explicit homage to the international opera repertoire that has somehow drawn from the Comedy. In fact, each of the characters indicated by the Latin poet corresponds to a fragment taken from a work in which he is the protagonist. Thus appears an incision from the Overture of Rossini’s Semiramide, a cantabile from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and a fragment for Cleopatra from Handel’s Julius Caesar in Egypt. For Elena, it was drawn from Cavalli’s opera of the same name, for Achille from the melodrama of Paër, and for Paris from Paride and Elena by Gluck. The quotation of the Tristan agreement from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is also a must.
Measures 141-167 stage the dialogue between Dante and Virgil on the identity of “those two who go together”. The theme of the third cello previously encountered is proposed again, however, transposed into D major in order to prepare Francesca’s debut (vlc. I) at bar 168. This character bursts with an “affectionate cry”, musically realized with a harmony of a major seventh in a broad yet sweet gesture. This is followed by the declamation of cello I which culminates in the cantabile of b. 198: a passionate air on Dante’s famous climax of the three “Amor”. The piece ends with the second cello falling “as a dead body falls”, which rests on the low F on the fourth string after a series of descending chromatic triplets.
A final consideration related to the performance of the piece. In fact, Tanzi’s Canto V is not reduced to the simple instrumental realization of the notes in the score but is conceived to be part of a broader performance, which includes both the recitation of Dante’s verses, as well as the projection of images linked to the episode narrated (think of Blake’s engravings or Dali’s works). In this way, the user can “immerse himself” in the infernal scene thanks to a synaesthetic description of the events and characters. Following these indications, Canto V can become a contribution to the memory of the Florentine poet and his work, as well as an informative and educational tool that can be proposed both in concert halls and in educational and school contexts.