Les Chants du Maldoror is a Chamber Symphony, a suite of orchestral contemplations on four etchings by surrealist artist, Salvador Dali.
Dali was asked to replace Picasso in providing illustrations for inclusion in the 1932 publication of Les Chants du Maldoror; a prose-poem in 6 cantos, written in 1868 by French poet Isidore Ducasse (the Comte de Lautréamont). The text was championed by Andre Breton as a manifesto of the French surrealist movement and Dali completed more than 40 etchings for the 1932 publication.
The opening movement, Identification with the Brother, depicts a kneeling, skeletal, faceless figure, holding at a distance its own face and head. The figure looks at the head with horror, gradually realizing that the face it holds is not the ‘brother’, but actually the face of itself. The movement functions as a musical depiction of the horror of gradual realization. Beginning with a 12-note row, the slow theme develops through an orchestral crescendo, accelerating in texture, speed and pitch height as the music unfolds.
Obsession of the Angelus, movement 2, features a portrait of Dali’s wife (Gaia) as an angel, looking into the near distance, her head surrounded by angelic wings. Two themes within this movement fight for supremacy; a surreal group of celestial trumpets and a slow-moving chorale for strings and percussion. The Angel’s ‘obsession’ is seen in this persistent cycling and acceleration of the heavenly trumpet choir, repeating its blasts of sound with increasing volume and speed. Underneath this bizarre heavenly chorus, the hymn tune “Angels we have Heard on High” appears softly in an accompanying string and percussion chorale.
The third movement is based on Dali’s, The Memory of Music; portraying a misshapen, floating piano typical of the draped and melting-object styles that appear in Dali’s dream imagery. The instrument gently disappears up a staircase, floating away from its two players and the viewer. A hazy dream-like melody is never stated in entirety, but presented in fragments to reflect the image of music remembered, rather than heard.
The final movement, The Future and its Enigma illustrates a single running figure, leaping into the vanishing lines of the distance and traveling towards the sunset of the future. The piece features two concurrent cycles, one intervallic and one rhythmic, which move at different rates of change through the piece. Through speed and recurrent rhythm, the piece leaps forward into unresolved harmonies and fragmented melodic ideas, until the two cycles conclude with a violent chord of arrival.
American Composers Orchestra (ACO) is dedicated to the creation, celebration, performance, and promotion of orchestral music by American composers. With commitment to diversity, disruption and discovery, ACO produces concerts, pre-college and college education programs, and emerging composer professional development to foster a community of creators, audience, performers, collaborators, and funders.
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