Tekla Babyak


Dante Alighieri’s Inferno portrays Hell as an alienated realm in which the doomed spirits must spend eternity in isolation and regret. The Hungarian composer Franz Liszt (1811–1886) responded to this work with his Dante Symphony (1857) based on the Inferno and Purgatorio, in which he gave musical form to Dante’s textual expressions of agony. Throughout this two-movement work, Liszt offers a musical translation of the theological and emotional world portrayed in Dante’s Divina Commedia. This article examines Liszt’s evocations of silence, memory, regret, and redemption in the Dante Symphony. These evocations are enhanced by Liszt’s use of quotations from Dante’s Inferno, which are printed in the score but never heard in performance. The unsung lines of text portray the silence and isolation in Hell, in contrast to the redemptive singing enacted in the Purgatorio movement.