This major work for large percussion ensemble and orchestra contains interesting percussion writing and intriguing sounds arising from striking combinations of instruments. But there is the impression that this is just yet another piece in the ubiquitous international twelve-tone style of the mid-twentieth century.
Composer Chester Biscardi (born 1948 in Kenosha, WI) is an often-honored composer who has received the Prix de Rome, an Ives Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and became chairman of the music department of Sarah Lawrence College. His doctorate of musical arts degree is from Yale and his master's in musical composition and his master of arts in Italian literature are from the University of Wisconsin.
It is not unexpected that several of his compositions have a connection with Italian literature, and this one is inspired by the greatest work of that literature, Dante's Divine Comedy. The poet coined the word trasumanar to describe the process or experience of being taken from the human state and rising to a state above it. Dante's narration describes the sensation of that transmutation, feeling the pull of the senses of his human nature against the spiritual yearning to transcend it.
Biscardi often finds in literary works and paintings a key not just to the descriptive content of his musical composition, but its structural or formal framework. He says this 13-minute work for 12 percussionists and piano derives its form from the opposing elements of this trasumanar process. Thus, there are elements in the music that are static, as the perceived timeless qualities of Paradise might be. These oppose dynamic, rapidly changing elements. Most of both textures appear in the percussion parts; the piano links them and gives them motion. Biscardi likens the percussion writing to the effect of the taped part of a tape-and-live-soloist work; the percussion here extends and interacts with the piano part.
Dante's progress might be suggested by the stage layout of instruments. Drums are at the rear, wooden percussion instruments are in the middle areas on the right, metal percussion instruments are in the middle left, and pitched instruments are in front. This creates a sense of movement from one state to the other, a quality that is hard to capture in just two channels.
Biscardi wrote the work for the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, one of America's leading permanent percussion groups, and received important technical advice and assistance in scoring the work from professional percussionist Joseph Passaro.