E PIU DI CENTO SPIRTI ("And More Than a Hundred Spirits")
The Second of Two Parts of the Ship of Souls Cycle

Quartet (After Dante)
for Harp, Glockenspiel, Vibraphone, and Marimba
By Christopher Fulkerson
CF's Composition Desk

Buy the Score:

The Ship of Souls

While reading Dante I was quite delighted with a certain panoramic image from Canto Two of the Purgatory.    Dante and Virgil are standing on a hill outside Purgatory when they see the Ship of Souls fly toward them, loaded with passengers fresh from Earth.    This is from my preferred translation of the Dante, by Geoffrey L. Bickersteth:

Then as drew nigh to us and still more nigh
   the bird of God, he yet more brightly shone,
   so that mine eyes endured him not close by,
But down I bent them; he to shore came on
   with a ship, which so swiftly and lightly hied,
   that of its bulk the water swallowed none.
Like one whose bliss by his look seemed ratified,
   on the poop stood the heavenly mariner;
   and more than a hundred spirits sat inside.

In terms of form this pair of companion pieces, “The Divine Bird…”  “…And More Than a Hundred Spirits,” is a tiento and a toccata.     The ancient Spanish instrumental tiento is a fantasy with the peculiar self-identifying agenda of carving through the texture, of, one might say, finding a path through the available musical space, in order to form a shape.   Thus the form is perhaps the only one in which voice leading itself is the issue.    Schenkerians should look into it.   The term comes from the Spanish verb tentar (“to try out,” “to attempt,” “to test”).    Perhaps an idiomatic translation of the term would be to call it an “essay;” that does seem to me to correspond to my harp solo L’UCCEL DIVINO.    A tiento uses its texture the way a fugue uses its theme.   The term toccata comes from the Italian verb meaning “to touch;” it was originally a piece intended as a display of manual dexterity, also usually for a solo instrument.   So together these two pieces are a “test piece” and a “touch piece.”   

L’uccel divino, the harp piece that is the first part of this two-part cycle, means literally “the divine bird;” this of course is an epithet for an angel, and the angel in question is the Captain of the Ship of Souls that goes back and forth between Earth and Dante’s Purgatory. This piece is a study of the character of that Captain, imagined in both his interior life and at his duties.

The title of the present work, the second of the two companion pieces in the Ship of Souls cycle, is E piu di cento spirti, which means “And More Than a Hundred Spirits,” and refers to the passengers on the Heavenly Ship.     It should be fairly easy to meditate on the correspondence between the assembly of a large crowd on a flying ship and the manifold musical situations one hears in the piece.   It is quite recognizable as a toccata, an improvisational form, one which by the mid-Nineteenth Century became identified with pieces that have repeated-note ideas.    To support the ideas I was having for the piece, I had to create an ensemble that can act as a “super-harp” without the harp’s physical, chromatic, registral, or endurance problems (or its frequent problems with repeated notes).    There are no sections or episodes in the piece whatsoever, it depends entirely on invention and contextual reckoning, though not dead reckoning: there are a number of ideas common to other pieces in the music festival, especially its companion L’UCCEL DIVINO, and both pieces end with the same bravura flourish. It is twelve minutes long, and was completed in 1989.

The Ship of Souls cycle is part of THE MUSIC FESTIVAL.


Update of December 30, 2014.