The Gate of Hell op. 15 (2001/2003)

- sound fresco for string quartet and electro-acoustic after August Rodin’s sculpture

The composition was inspired by August Rodin’s identically-titled sculpture in the garden of the Musee Rodin in Paris, itself inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. Rodin’s famous Thinker appears for the first time in this sculpture, perched above the Gate of Hell, under the Three  Shadows, resting his head on his fist. (It was the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, for many years the sculptor’s secretary, who suggested the master turn the Thinker into a free-standing statue.)

“It was a great challenge to portray by means of music such a monumental work. It took me some time to decide whether I should do it at all. Then, one fine day, on 22 July 2001, on my 35th birthday, I heard music from a distant corner of our flat. I got up to see whether I was hallucinating, but the sounds kept resounding. These four notes, a major seventh chord comprising two perfect fifth, was to become the harmonic base of the composition, “ the composer said in apropos of his work.

“Naturally, the figure of the Thinker appears in the music - he comes forward in his capacity as silent observer, contemplating over passing time. By means of these returning motifs of time I sought to create a sort of free rondo form. However, the Thinker is aware that thoughts, like their conceivers, have existed since the beginning of Time. I was chiefly out to portray this timelessness - an interesting undertaking, since music itself happens in passing time.

I wanted the composition to be a ‘sound fresco’ - in which, as when looking at a sculpture, time after time different figures come into focus: now a wrenched, agonizing body, now a tear-drenched face, then directly, underneath the Thinker, silently but terrifyingly the symbol of death, the skeleton (‘His belly bloated and talon-sharp his hands: He claws the spirits, skins and splits them up.’) To alleviate the pain, from time to time we glance at the Three Shadows at the top of the sculpture, who, pointing in the same direction, seem to be saying: “Behold, mortal, what awaits you if you care not! There is portrayed by means of the above mentioned major seventh chord whose periodic appearance also creates a rondo form. Finally, a perhaps chance meeting: as I have mentioned, the first notes of the work first came to m on my 35th birthday. When I started read and think about Dante’s Divine Comedy I came across this staggering fact. The Divine Comedy begins with the following lines: “ Halfway through the journey we are living I found myself deep in a darkened forest.’ On the night of Holy Thursday, Dante celebrated his 35th birthday.”

Duration: 19 minutes

First performance: Budapest, Kunsthalle, 29.09.2001, Final version: April 2003.

To receive the electro-acoustic sound material (stereo or quadraphonic version) please contact the publisher:

Publisher: Hangvarázs Bt. - No. 16 (