ENS.2020.5 | 25′
I. A Realm Below
Algabal is a kind of decadent symphony inspired by the early twentieth-century German poet Stefan George’s eponymous poetic cycle. Taken from the legendary, bizarre life of the Roman Emperor Elagabalus (Heliogabalus), George’s obscure fantasia of hedonistic youth suggested a lush symphonic setting replete with exuberant harmonies and brutal rhythms.
The first two movements are fast. Introduced by hammering blows, A Realm Below sets in motion the rich unisons and straining, soaring melodies characterizing the work as a whole. Days begins with sawing strings before exploding into a hysterical, blazing chorus. The remaining two movements are slow, almost agonizingly so. Nearly entirely motionless, Memories casts its immobile gaze back toward darkening reflections. Algabal concludes with Augury, luxuriant, increasingly gloomy omens building to the final shrieks of Elagabalus’s brutal demise.
As a work about a foolish, decadent, narcissistic emperor destroyed by his own hubris, Algabal can also be seen as a political allegory, and though it was pointedly completed during the presidential election year of 2020, this work can serve as a general indictment of any leader—past, present, or future—whose failures are rooted in their own flawed character.