• Cheryl Frances-Hoad
  • My Day in Hell (2008)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Cheryl Frances-Hoad was a winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize in 2007. As a result she was awarded the first ever Susan Bradshaw Composers' Fund Commission to write My day in hell for the Cheltenham Festival 2008.

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  • 10 min

Programme Note

Cheryl Frances-Hoad was a winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize in 2007. As a result she was awarded the first ever Susan Bradshaw Composers' Fund Commission to write My day in Hell for the Cheltenham Festival 2008. The work was premiered at the Pitville Pump Room in August by the Dante Quartet during the festival.

Upon winning one of the RPS Composition Prizes I was delighted to be told that I could decide exactly what I wanted to write for the 2008 Cheltenham Festival. I’d always wanted to write a string quartet, but was a bit daunted when I heard that the Dante Quartet (whom I was to write for) were commissioning new works inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, mainly because I’d never read a word of it. Nevertheless this sounded very exciting, so I panic-bought the thirteen-hour audio book and set about listening to it during a particularly bad bought of flu. This probably had quite a strong influence on my interpretation of Dante’s travels (being half asleep through some passages and then waking to descriptions of sinners submerged neck-deep in rivers of boiling blood did interesting things to my dreams and little to sooth my fever).

Not to my surprise, I discovered that my relatively blameless life would nevertheless land me (at the very best) somewhere in Purgatory’s grottier places should I decide to die without repenting. So I set about re-reading Inferno and Purgatorio to find out how I’d end up being punished for my sloth, hypocrisy, indolence, lust and gluttony amongst other (in my view) debatable sins, and based the quartet on this unsavoury imaginary day trip.

Other than the evocative descriptions of each sin’s punishment, the piece is influenced by Dante’s numerical organisation of Hell and Purgatory. For instance, Hell is organised into 10 circles: 4 of Incontinence (an uncontrolled appetite for all sorts of things), 1 of Violence, 2 of Fraud, 1 of Misbelief (the Heretics), 1 of Unbelief (Limbo) and 1 Vestibule of the Futile. These circles are organised into 3 groups (3 being the number of the Holy Trinity) of 7 (the number of the deadly sins), 2 and 1. They permeate the entire fabric of the piece, determining durations of sections, influencing chordal structure, rhythmic organisation and melodic lines.

© Cheryl Frances-Hoad, 2008

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