Death of Socrates
Full Orchestra (3333, 4331, timp, 3perc, pno, hp, str)
Duration: 8 min
Summer of 2005, I wandered into a NYC castle which houses a collection of art treasures. Having been rather tired of my stubborn notion that music remained the most visceral art form, I wanted the castle to convert me. I needed the art works to jump out the museum walls and capture me. And I insisted that this miracle happen by accident.
As we all know, amazing things occur on their own terms regardless of our egotistical little plans. I followed my feet up the main stairway and instinct told me to turn left. There it was, the over-sized painting by Jacques-Louis David titled The Death of Socrates. Something about the word “death” defining the protagonist’s impassioned face struck me. Music immediately began emerging in my head, clearly born out of my increased heart rate. “Dammit”, I thought to myself, “I am brought to my knees by this painting and I still can’t help hearing the musical interpretation!”
The painting portrays the frozen moment when the infamous martyr achieves sainthood. It’s brilliant and should be enough for anyone. But as a relentless composer, I had to unfreeze the moment, to give Socrates a heartbeat and to make him real, breathing right next to your ear. If you pay attention, hemlock takes the heartbeat away, and leaves the breath to carry on the conversation.
For my foreseeable future, music remains the most visceral art form after all.