Into the Furnace
Composition Date: 1993
Instrumentation: Cl, Bsn, Hn, 2Vln, Vla, Vc, Db
Commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival and first performed by the Gaudier Ensemble, 1993.
To you it is commanded, O people, nations and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, psaltery, harp, bagpipe and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the King hath set up; and whose falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
The story from the book of Daniel of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the burning fiery furnace reads like a rondo. The list of instruments reappears like a refrain throughout the story.
I have used three ideas in the octet; the first, which opens the piece, is of building (the building of the golden idol). The second is the `music', which is characterised by the E flat clarinet, and varied each time it returns, with a different soloist. The third is a simple, lyrical passage for strings, which changes and develops throughout the piece, but which always retains its immovable quality. This represents the faith of the three men.
The furnace is kindled using fragments of the `building' theme, so that, symbolically, it is the idol that is destroyed, and not the three men. The mysterious fourth `like the Son of Man' who appears with them in the flames is represented by a cello solo.
The piece does not end triumphantly. I have always felt uneasy about Nebuchadnezzar's final decree: `Any people, national or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins...' - the endless human desire to force others into our own way of thinking. In contrast to this childish outburst is the quiet presence of the `Son of Man' in the flames, neither extinguishing them nor turning them on others.