In book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dido, long in grief over her late husband Sychaeus’s death, is suddenly awakened from emotional slumber by the visiting Trojan hero Aeneas. In an upheaval of emotion, she proclaims, “Agnosco veteris vestigia flammae,” or “I recognize the traces of an ancient fire”. For Dido, experiential time becomes a complex and powerful mix of emotions past and present. The quote resurfaces in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The overarching allegory of this epic poem traces themes of Dante’s spiritual quest through symbolism. Dante, guided by Virgil, achieves literary immortality through the act of storytelling that appropriates and amalgamates references to antiquity, classical literature, mythology, Christianity, and (then) contemporary Italian politics. In Purgatorio 30, Dante feels the presence of Beatrice and matches his emotional upheaval to that of Dido. Dante makes a final tribute to Virgil by stating, “conosco i segni de l’antica fiamma” – an Italian translation of the Latin “Agnosco veteris vestigia flammae.”
This passage is the poetic impetus for two partnered pieces Agnosco Veteris (2015, for orchestra) and Vestigia Flammae (2014, for sinfonietta). While neither work is explicitly programmatic in connection with Virgil or Dante’s literary narrative, the music invites private, distinctive, and profound interpretations in each listener’s experience as she addresses the central concepts of lost memories, vestigial emotions, and melancholy for the passage of time (common themes in my music).
Dante appropriates explicit cultural references and symbols as a tool to weave the narrative of the Divine Comedy. However, when I was collecting the source material for Vestigia Flammae, I abandoned explicit quotation. Rather, I tried my hand at writing imagined faux folk, modal, and fanfare-like source-music that could be mistaken for something pre-existing.
While episodic in construction, Agnosco Veteris is divided into three large sections. Part 1, the “Music of Before” presents the thematic source material, or sonic memories. Part 2, the “Music of Ritual” is a static reflective checkpoint during which the listener can consider the musical recollections that came before. Part 3, the “Music of After” is characterized by energetic renewal and presents a reconfigured collage of the musical material.
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