Dream of Innocent III
The Dream of Innocent III was written in New York City and at the MacDowell Colony and completed in December, 1987. From the time I started work on the piece I conceived of the cello as the protagonist, with the piano and percussion offering a variety of commentaries which often strongly contrast with the cello’s voice. The piece opens elementally, with the cello playing primarily open strings and natural harmonics while the piano and percussion define their initial roles in whaps and thuds. The decision to amplify the cello actually came from the nature of this opening, and is an effort to gain more unity of attack between the cello and percussion. This combination of open sonority, along with a sense of long line in the cello part, and heavily articulated rhythm form the basis for the development of the piece. The Dream of Innocent III is in three large interrelated sections, the first two ending with extended amplified cello solos of contrasting character. The third section (and the piece) ends with a transfiguration of the riffs and tunes that have been the focus of the piece throughout, and with an intensification of the dramatic roles of each instrument.
The title is borrowed from a Giotto fresco that is part of the “Scenes from the Life of St Francis’ cycle in Assisi. The piece, recurrently, was inspired by the fresco, which depicts Pope Innocent III, in full papal regalia, dreaming that the Church is being literally upheld by Francis. The tilted dream image of Francis propping up the church of St. John Lateran evolves seamlessly out of the papal bed chambers, and the surreal intensity and simplicity of that image had a deep impact on me while I was working on the piece.
The Dream of Innocent III was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation and was written for the cellists Rhonda Rider, Ted Mook, and Tom Flaherty. —Lee Hyla