Purgatory Pieces (2004) - Stephen Beville

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Purgatory Pieces (2004) - Stephen Beville


In writing for string quartet, I wanted to produce a conceptual piece. Purgatory Pieces is a work of 'Italianate' influence whose title not only alludes to the second part of Dante's Divine Comedy, but is representative of scenes I wanted to depict both in mood and technique. I find composing may be likened to painting in that it requires the right combination of tones (colours) and textures to produce any significant effect, especially when dealing with a highly chromatic palette such as my own.

In the opening 'Prologue', for example, bow techniques play a decisive structural role, as may be cited in the contrasting use of ricochet that differentiate the outer (spicatto) sections with the col legno of the central episode. The 'Monologue' is similarly sparse and fragmentary; a lone melody given to the first violin is accompanied by a ghostly halo of harmonics, and is occasionally taken up by the other players. 'Transfixion' is by contrast mainly homophonic; a lyrical meditation and transformation of the lietmotif (open fifths and harmonics) that concluded the first movement. It was conceived as a kind of personal tribute to the great Italian composer Luigi Nono - who in his late work (particularly in Prometeo) discovered a new purity of musical language. The scherzo-like 'Epilogue' makes pervasive use of pizzicato and flickering tremelos before the 'Transfixion' theme makes a brief final, but telling appearence.


String quartet inspired by Dante's Purgatorio from the Divine Comedia. Four movements: Prologue, Monologue, Transfixion, Epilogue.

Duration: 18-20 mins.

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