Vita nova

Countertenor, 2 violins, viola, viola da gamba and cembalo
Text by Dante Alighieri
Duration : 27’
Commissioned by Fondation Marcelle et Robert de Lacour.
Editions Jobert

Countertenor, 2 violins, viola, viola da gamba and cembalo

The project for this work stems from a wish by the singer Vincent Aguettant: an original creation aimed at his ensemble for the first part of a concert and preferably in the Italian language.

I was easily convinced as, apart from the fact that I enjoying writing for the voice, the idea of a clash between the baroque instruments and a music which is several centuries their posterior is a wonderful experience. (I was given a recent commission by Hervé Niquet for a work for his “Spiritual concert”). An experience which shows that above all, these instruments have a particular richness perfectly suited to a musical language different to the one which we are accustomed to hearing.

The text that I chose to set to music is an extract from what Dante himself calls his little book. Indeed overshadowed by “The Divine Comedy”, “Vita Nova” deserves to be better known. The poet’s passion for Beatrice – from the moment of first love to the death of his beloved – is narrated here with a seemingly ingenuous simplicity, but more often than not masks the themes of the great work to come.

“Vita Nova” tells of the ideal love that the poet nurtures for Beatrice from his youngest age.

A pure, chaste love – we could even say divine – since in its poetic inspiration, it is sometimes in the image of Mary, even Christ according to certain critics.

“La Vita Nova” could therefore be the narrative of a life, illuminated by the wondrous love for Beatrice, an almost divine life as each time he sees Beatrice, Dante feels he is “transfigured”.

Dante considers Beatrice to be a miracle on Earth and places her indefinitely under the sign of a brilliant Trinity, multiplying significantly the references to the figure 9 (her birth, her death, their meeting and various other events).

In the musical composition, the figure 9 also plays a large part – be it just in the duration of the work: 3 x 9 minutes, or 27 minutes.

The text set to music is the 2nd song in which the ailing Dante sees the death of Beatrice in a dream.

Along with other theological references, the poet quotes, word for word, a psalm as he sees his beloved, driven by angels, rise to heaven: “Levava li occhi miei” (“Levavi oculos meos”).

Pain is overcome and little by little transforms into true beatitude.

The musical interpretation is guided by the poem’s moods and after the initial sadness and frightening visions of the nightmare, depicts the gentle impression of divine light which brings this poem to an end.

Patrick Burgan