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The Death of Virgil
Medford Series
2004; 27:15 min.


The Death of Virgil takes its name from Hermann Broch's Der Tod des Vergil (1945) which evokes the last 18 hours of the poet's life in the Palace of the emperor Augustus at Brundisium. As the novel itself, the composition is in four parts: Arrival, Descent, Awaiting, and Home-Coming [4:47; 7:45; 8:58; 5:45]. Similar to Broch's text, the piece is an inner dialog of an alternately lyric, epic, and dramatic nature. It is the equivalent, in sound, of my life-long reading of Broch's novel, and of the vibrations the reading carried over into my life.

Just as Broch's text is woven out of strands of stream-of-consciouness fragments, the composition is woven together of a number of contrasting, interrelated, superimposed scores commenting upon each other by way of variants and sub-variants. Composed with Koenig's Project One program and orchestrated by way of Kyma, each of the scores used obtains its own harmonic, melic, rhythmic, and timbral profile which sets one acoustic version of the score apart from another. Often, the same score is contra-posed against itself in a divergent orchestration, even to the point of annihilation.

Although in the compositional process based on Broch's novel, the composition is not an illustration or even a comment on the text, but stands totally on its own. Nevertheless, a few historical pointers might be useful to the listener.

At the center of Broch's novel, as well as of this composition, stands the fate of the poet's main work, the Aeneid. Incomplete at his death and destined by him to be destroyed, it is rescued by Augustus for the greater glory of himself as representative of the newly pacified Roman state. The work survives, however, as the voice of the poet that announces another, Christian era, depicted in Dante's Divine Comedy by Virgil as the guide through the underworld.

There is, in this work a double arrival, that of the poet's ship from Athens in the harbor of Brundisium, and his definitive arrival in the realm of the Word that surpasses death. I hear the second arrival as an answer to the composition's second movement, and the slow, triumphant rising beyond all doubt of the third movement. There is, lastly, the belief that, as the Word surpasses death, so does musical sound.