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Il Cor Tristo

6th July 2019 @ 1:00 pm


James Cave: Alto
Christopher O’Gorman: Tenor
James Botcher: Tenor
Stuart O’Hara: Bass

Il Cor Tristo are a vocal group steeped in the tradition of ensemble singing. In this lunchtime concert they present Roger Marsh’s setting of words from Dante’s Inferno, from which the group takes its name, along with the first performance of new works by James Cave and David Lancaster.


Il Cor Tristo  (2008)                                                                                      Roger Marsh

I   Il Cor Tristo       II  Ne l’eterno rezzo        III  Ugolino


In 1996-98 I was the producer for an audio-book version of Dante’s Divine Comedy, in a new English translation by Benedict Flynn. The reader was Heathcote Williams, and when we came to record Canto 33 of Inferno, I found myself transported by the power and emotion of his reading.  It occurred to me that afternoon, that one day I would like to make a musical setting of these verses.

The opportunity to realise this project came last year, when the Hilliard Ensemble invited me to compose something for them, and this was the project I proposed to them.    Ugolino’s monologue in Canto 33 is remarkable within the context of the Divine comedy, in that it is the only time we are given a full account of a personal story: elsewhere we are given snippets or allusions, but Dante does not make time to re-iterate tales he believes we should know already.  In this case, the scenario clearly took hold of his imagination: a traitor imprisoned with his entire family, and eventually condemned to starve to death together in their sealed tower.    Dante has Ugolino tell his own story simply, calmly and in pathetic detail.

I have begun the drama as Dante first encounters the frozen lake which lies at the bottom of the pit of Hell, cutting a few lines from time to time en route to Ugolino’s story, which I have set complete. My primary concern has been to keep Dante’s words clear at all times, and thus you will find in this ‘contemporary’ music many devices more usually encountered in music of much earlier times.   I hope that I have been able to do this without wasting the incredible talents of the Hilliard Ensemble. The challenge for them is less in the notes they have to sing, than in the large number of words which I ask them to enunciate with expression, but also with maximum clarity.  And that is my suggestion to you: that you do not close your eyes and let the sound of the music drift over you, but that you accompany Dante on this section of his journey, line by line

Roger Marsh

June 2008

Porta dell Inferno sets words by Dante, in both English and Italian.

The text is from Canto III of Inferno, where Dante and Virgil stand before the gateway to hell and read the famous lines inscribed above the archway.


Through me you go to the grief-wracked city,
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me you go amongst lost souls.
Justice inspired my exalted Creator.
I am a creature of the holiest power,
Of wisdom in the highest and of primal love.
Nothing was made till I was made, only
things eternal.  And I endure eternally.
Surrender as you enter every hope you have.
These words I saw, inscribed
Above a portal’s lofty arch.
We had come where we could pass amongst
The souls of those in torment
who’ve lost the good of intellect.
Here, sighs, sobbing, laments and plaintive wailing
echoed through air where no star shone,
And at this I began to weep.
Discordant tongues, harsh accents of horror,
Pained words, the torment of rage, strident
Voices, the sound of smacking hands on flesh;
Together stirred a storm that swirled
For ever in the darkened air where no time was,
Like sand swept up in the breathing spires of wind.

Porta dell Inferno was composed in the Spring of 2019 for today’s performers.

David Lancaster

Di Coro In Coro (2019) is a setting of words from Canto 28 of Dante’s Paradiso: it describes the poet’s journey into the Primum Mobile, that sphere of heaven from which all being is unfolded. Dante encounters a choir of angels, and witnesses ring of fire, ‘moved by burning love’. My setting was composed for Il Cor Tristo in May 2019.
James Cave

All tickets £5 either on line or on the door


6th July 2019
1:00 pm
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St. Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel
St. Saviourgate
York, YO1 8NQ United Kingdom
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