The Gate of Hell


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The Three Gates was composed during the first two weeks of March in 2007 shortly after Ford began reading Dante's The Divine Comedy.  It is dedicated to the British composer and singer David Warin Solomons, a fellow member of the Delian Society with a remarkable vocal range who prepared the first performance by singing and recording all of the parts himself.  Ford's musical style in these three movements, the last two of which include the organ, was strongly influenced by his familiarity with the music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, particularly the polyphony of Josquin and the operas and madrigals of Monteverdi, although elements drawn from composers as diverse as Gesualdo, Beethoven, and Liszt also come into play.  

"The Gate of Hell" is a setting in the original Trecento Italian for alto, tenor, baritone, and bass of what are perhaps the most famous lines Dante ever penned—the inscription on the Gate of Hell, which ends with the line "Leave, ye that enter in, all hope behind!" (from the translation by Melville Best Anderson of Dante's Inferno, Canto III).   "The Gate of Hell" is remarkable for the dark chromatic harmony with which the movement opens in D minor.  The first two notes in the alto describe a tritone, the infamous "diabolus in musica," but there is no attempt to exaggerate the almost palpable woe and pain that will be associated with Dante's descent into the Underworld.  Ford has instead pictured the "Gate of Hell" as the imposing creation of "Divine Omnipotence, combined With Primal Love and Wisdom Sovereign."  The second section of the movement, where these words will be heard, initially moves away from the ominous polyphony bearing the first three lines of the text to a simpler chordal style, then shifts into triple meter signifying the Holy Trinity, with contrasting alto/tenor and baritone/bass voice pairs moving in gentle, dance-like rhythms.  The penultimate section, once more in common time, makes use of imitative polyphony at the octave and the fourth below and some vivid text painting on the words "etterno" ("eterne") and "duro" ( "abide") in which note values are prolonged and numerous notes are set to a single syllable.  The final admonitory line is set in a declamatory homorhythmic style, and the movement draws to a close on a stoic G triad whose third has been omitted.

This mp3 performance is by the dwsChorale, Sale, United Kingdom, with David Warin Solomons directing. The sound engineer was Steve Fraser, Dallas, Texas.

Learn more about the dwsChorale and David Solomons' multivocal recordings.

Last updated May 8, 2007
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© Copyright 2007 by Joseph Dillon Ford (music) and David Warin Solomons (performance)