This Symphonic Poem is based upon an episode which Dante does not describe. He and Beatrice are taken up into the Empyrean. Paradise opens before them,
‘In fashion then as of a snow-white rose
Displayed itself to me the saintly host,
Whom Christ in his own blood had made his bride.’
Dante is lost in wonderment at the vision, and in turning to question Beatrice, finds that she is no longer by his side, but has passed away from him to take her place within the rose of Paradise. The music is designed to illustrate the passing, or transition, of Beatrice from earthly to immortal form.
Wallace’s score is intensely romantic in idiom, combining both the purity and sensual imagery of Dante’s vision, in which the angels are likened to bees bearing the honey (symbolic of Christ) from a white rose made up of the souls of the blessed. It is to the third circle of petals in this rose that Beatrice is translated. With its lush harmonies and rich orchestration balanced by thoughtfulness and restraint, Wallace’s music is something more than sweet. The strings, with violins divided and half of them muted, set a tone of hushed reverence, and their opening ascending motif provides the rhythmic basis for most of the work. This motif goes through a process of transformation: a hymn, an intense chromatic passage for woodwind of deep personal feeling, which rises to a passionate and ecstatic expression of love, and finally a calm and ethereal peace.
The beauty of the opening is wonderfully restrained, reaching towards the acclamation of the brass, più vivo, suggestive of the power of Divine Wisdom, which is a central aspect of Beatrice’s own enlightenment and which grows in radiance as the full orchestra joins in. The process is repeated, meno mosso, in varied and extended form. The structure parallels Dante’s, as he and Beatrice are admitted stage by stage to greater enlightenment. The visionary conclusion matches the beauty of Dante’s experience on seeing Beatrice in the rose:
Not from the centre of the sea so far
Unto the region of the highest thunder,
As was my ken from hers; and yet the form
Came through that medium down, unmix’d and pure.
from notes by John Purser © 1996