Overview

Decoding the composition
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Tarantism is allegedly a deadly envenomation attributed to the bite of a kind of wolf spider called a tarantula, which is found near the seaport of Taranto in southern Italy. Historically, tarantism,is referred to as a psychological illness characterised by a “dancing mania”, prevalent in southern Italy from the 15th to the 17th century, and this is what the title refers to.  

There were strong suggestions that there is no organic cause for the heightened excitability and restlessness that gripped the victims. The stated belief of the time was that victims needed to engage in frenzied dancing to prevent death from tarantism. As a result from this therapy, tarantella, a rapid, whirling dance evolved. Many people have suggested that the whole business was a deceit to evade religious proscriptions against dancing.

Tarantismo is based on the same legend that created the tarantella, the idea of dancing faster and faster to get the poison of the tarantula spider out of your system. My theory is that, back then, perhaps one pretended to have been bitten by a spider to give you an excuse for dancing, whirling faster and faster, and ever more frenzied, towards an ecstatic release.  

For me, the whole idea of ecstatic release describes the intense effort of trying to launch something off the stage and into the audience, to make that electric point of connection. Other people can do that in a very calm, quiet and profound way, but with me it's delirious, ecstatic and – when it works – irresistible.

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In Focus:

Tarantismo

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Project Details

Tarantismo

for Orchestra

Commissioner: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Instrumentation: Orchestra

Premiered by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra with Eckehard Stier (cond.) on February 17, 2011 at the Auckland Town Hall, Auckland, New Zealand

Difficulty Level:
Advanced
Duration:
7:00
Type:
Original
Instrument Tags:
Piccolo
Flute
Oboe
Clarinet
Bass Clarinet
Contrabassoon
French Horn
Trumpet
Trombone
Tuba
Mixed Percussion
Piano
Violin
Viola
Cello
Double Bass
Winds
Brass
Percussion
Piano/Keyboards
Strings

Program note

Tarantismo is an orchestral adaptation that Psathas created from the third movement of his piano trio Helix. In contrast to the more stripped back, clearly defined lines of the piano trio that capture the ‘frenetic’ nature of the tarantella dance, Psathas turns to the more textural qualities of the orchestra in this modified orchestral version.

In particular, his textural string writing creates a ‘whirling’ effect that can be associated with this dance. The composer uses both simple and compound time to create metric modulation, which is used to speed up the contrasting tutti sections of the work. These contrasting tutti sections of the work are found in simple time before being developed. Initially Psathas employs repetitive demisemiquaver patterns in the violin and viola section, punctuated by accented quaver and dotted quaver gestures in the woodwinds, brass, timpani, cello and double bass section to create suspense.

The effect of doubling throughout the orchestra is two-fold in increasing the dynamic range and enhancing the syncopated rhythmic propulsion synonymous with Psathas’ writing. This initial idea is developed even further culminating in the use of octave displacement and doubling of the bassoon and contrabassoon with the bass trombone and tuba along with the addition of the percussion section to increase tension and build towards the climatic ending of the piece.

Resources

RESEARCHERS: EXPLORE TARANTISMO ORCHESTRA AT THE ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY