THE MISSION OF VIRGIL is a ballet in seven parts, which reflects certain images from the INFERNO cantica of Dante's DIVINE COMEDY. It was commissioned by the New York City Ballet for choreography by Peter Martins, and is the first of a projected collaboration of three ballets. The score is dedicated to Peter Martins.
The first part of Dante's great poem serves as a stimulus for the score, but the music is in no sense a narrative, not even especially programmatic; nor is the idea behind it a "story on the stage". Rather, certain isolated incidents, relationships, images, remarks, names are made the springboard for a musical fabric which also reflects certain basic aspects of the poem's word-structure: its eleven-syllable lines, its three-line stanzas, its rhyme scheme, its obsession with the number seven, and so forth.
I treat the infernal aspect of the poem (as I translate bits of it into musical terms) more formally than expressionistically -- my score reflects the irony with which the poet treats many of his subjects in hell; there is a certain mocking quality to the vision I present, more ridicule than horror.
The titles of the work's seven sections refer to the poet's flight from the beasts and encounter with Virgil in the Dark Wood, the account Virgil gives of his divine commission (this is the "Mission of Virgil"), the progress of the two poets into Limbo, their meeting with Paolo and Francesca, various monsters encountered as they near the bottom of hell, Satan (also a monster), and their final emergence into the light at the foot of the Mount of Purgatory.
CW, 29 September 1993
I. Flight from the Three Beasts
II. The Mission of Virgil