LA TURBA CHE RIMASE LI ("The Throng That There Remained")
Second Purgatory Sonata
Trio for Viola, Harp, and Percussion

by Christopher Fulkerson

CF's Composition Desk

The form of each of the Purgatory Sonatas
This was the working plan probably used for La turba che rimase li
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This ten-minute piece is the second in a cycle of three Purgatory Sonatas after Dante that is part of THE FESTIVAL, The work-in-progress "cycle of epicycles" that I am composing. The first of these Purgatory Sonatas is the quartet OH OMBRE, VANE, "Oh Vain Shades;" the third is the octet MA PER QUEL POCO ("But Through That Glimpse") for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, Harp, Violin, Viola, and Bass. All three pieces were written in 1988, and all have the same formal design. As the cycle's title suggests, the pieces are inspired by the second book of Dante's Divine Comedy.

The title of this piece comes, like four other compositions of the Festival, from the second Canto of Dante's Purgatorio. Dante and Virgil see the Ship of Souls arrive from Earth, with its Captain (L'UCCEL DIVINO) and more than a hundred passengers (E PIU DI CENTO SPIRTI) singing a hymn; these he blesses and they fling themselves down on the shore of Purgatory. 52 through 54 Dante describes

The throng that there remained the aspect bore
of strangers to the place, and their survey
resembled his who would new things explore.

La turba che rimasi li, selvaggia
parea del loco, rimirando intorno
come colui che nove cose assaggia.

It seems to me that this passage has very many similarities to the beginning of the last book of Homer's Odyssey; a group of (in both cases, "over a hundred:" I count 130 killed by Odysseus and his party) newly deceased souls (in both cases, singing in chorus) arrive at the land of the Dead, and are surprised to learn that some of their number are in fact not dead (in Homer, the souls realize that Odysseus spared Medon and the Musician; in Dante, the souls discover Dante himself is alive); in both passages there is testimony from a famous member of their tribe (in Homer, Agamemnon holds forth to the spirits; Dante meets his friend, the composer Casella, who had set some of his lyrics to music). Both passages mention a musician who is esteemed by the living; if Homer's bard corresponds to Dante's friend Casella, could it be that Dante is comparing himself to the Herald, Medon? I think the question merits study.

Since I try not to overlook the obvious, let me say that I do not expect that the listener to this music, or meditator on these things, is expected to throw in his chip believing in the necessity of punishment in purgation. I believe in purgation, but not through punishment. It seems probable to me that the only fair purgation is self-purgation. To the extent that purgation is part of the Festival, it is merely in this way: like any works of program music, some parts or aspects of the Festival give the listener the opportunity to reflect on his own thoughts about things; this is particularly true of the instrumental pieces in the Festival, and one of the reasons the "cycle of epicycles" requires instrumental program music.

It may be noticed that I write that the graph above is of the plan "probably" used for this piece. I often make a plan for a projected piece that has a title, and then, when working with the plan, I all too often discover that it's going to have to involve a different ensemble than the one I originally planned. By the time I am working in score, the piece has existed in several versions, for example, a simple line drawing; then a line drawing on graph paper; next a metrical plan; finally a score. Not infrequently each of these stages involves more than one version. At each stage I adapt the tempi and gruppetti and change these to suit the idea, often to try to make the piece easier to play. So while the proportions will definitley be those of the graph here, without careful study, I can't be sure which piece this arithmetic is used for. And rather than spend the time studying to figure out just which piece this graph represents, I'd prefer to spend my time writing a new piece.

The expressive shape of the Purgatory Sonatas parallels, I think, the three-part progress of Mysticism, Clarification, and Action that the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once described. He said:

"Mysticism leads us to try to create out of the mystical experience something that will save it, or at least save the memory of it. Words don't convey it except feebly; we are aware of having been in communication with infinitide and we know that no infinite form we can give can convey it..." In response to the suggestion that music may come nearer it than than words, Whitehead said, "Out of [the] effort to save the mystical experience, in the hope of creating a form which will preserve the experience for ourselves and possibly for others, comes clarification - in a thought or perhaps an art-form; and that clarification is then turned into some form of action... Mysticism, clarification, action; I have never put it in that form before; but that is the order in which I would state it."

The First Purgatory Sonata, "Oh Vain Shades," may be found to map to Mysticism; the second, "The Throng There There Remained," to Clarification; and the third, "But Through That Glimpse," to Action.


Written July 13, 2009. Last updated June 28, 2015.