Michael WHITICKER (b. 1954) Purgatorio - paradiso, 1992
Commissioned by The Song Company with assistance from the Australia Council.
Although the suggestive title of this piece and the work which to some degree inspired it -
Dante's Commedia - suggests otherwise, the listener should not intentionally search for a
programme in this music. The use of excerpts from Dante's text was purely to provide source
material for the singers. A programmatic realisation of Dante's work, (tempting as that might be),
would be a massive undertaking of ballet length.
That said and done, Dante's Commedia, a Christian allegory with its account of a journey
through Hell, Purgatory and finally to the contemplation of God in Paradise, supplied me with
such riveting images that I felt compelled to set parts of the text in my piece. However, the piece
was never originally intended to "be about" the "afterlife" nor any paraphernalia associated with
it. lt was always my aim on the one hand to write a piece dealing with sounds for their own sake,
(an abstract work one might say), yet on the other to allow for something of a mystical character
to be evoked, at times the piece achieving the contemplative quality of a genily hummed or
The selection of the two-pronged title was also relevant in that it highlights the dualism to be
found in my piece: its use of the same singers with the same material on tape and in live
performance, its use of text and nonsense, adulterated and pure sounds, and the question for
me of whether the work belongs in a concert hall or alternatively on the theatre or ballet stage.
On a more philosophical level, the dualism that exists between mind and body continues to
fascinate me, particularly in regard to how we perceive music - do some of us listen substantially
with the mind and others with the body? Or, more importantly, at what point and with what
degree of pre-knowledge does an intrinsically intellectual activity become intuitive? (Most of us
know the experience of "turning off" once we recognise the piece or process at work creating the
Both in regard to pitch material and texture an obvious precursor for this work will be found in
Stockhausen's Stimmung. Although not denying the apparent similarities between the two
works, I think there is little to note outside the fact that my work isn't the first of its kind - not that
that should be of any significance. (ln this regard - without in any way wanting to denigrate the
importance of Stockhausen's work - there are also numerous precursors for his piece.)
The tape part of this piece was realised in my home studio and the original voice recordings
were made largely using tonight's performers, The Song Company.
Purgatorio - Paradiso is dedicated to Roland Peelman and his merry band with gratitude for their