Vocal Music

The Pit and the Pendulum, 2020.

The plot of the dramatic cantata The Pit and the Pendulum follows closely that of Edgar Allan Poe’s novel of the same name, but, for scenic reasons, the story is divided in five scenes. Those scenes are interspersed by interludes of electronic music, which depict the semi-conscious and at times delirious states of mind of the protagonist of the story. The drama takes place in an unspecified time and place. The cantata begins with Scene I, The Judgement; a prisoner finds himself in a dark room and remembers that he has been convicted by the Spanish Inquisition. He is in an almost hallucinatory state; his distress distorts his memories. In the Scene II, The Pit, he starts exploring the space in which he is restricted and realizes that there is a pit of fathomless depth in the middle of the room. He risks falling into it, but he ultimately manages to avoid the plunge. After fainting and regaining conscience, in Scene III, The Pendulum, he finds himself bound and subjected to the torture of the pendulum. In this torture, allegedly used by the Spanish Inquisition in the 18th Century, the victims are bound to a table, face up, while a giant pendulum hanging from the ceiling of the room, with a razor-shaped blade, in place of a weight, progressively descends over them. Thanks to a daring tactic, the convict manages to free himself before the pendulum reaches his body. He anoints with food leftovers the bindings that immobilize him, so that rats, attracted by the scent of food, eat the bandages, thus freeing the convict and allowing him to escape death again. Scene IV, All is Not Lost, is a meditation of the convict upon his ultimate fate. In the Scene V, Rescue, the room begins to overheat and its walls to contract, forcing the prisoner, who can hardly breathe, towards the brink of the pit. As everything seems lost, the prisoner is rescued with a deus-ex-machina-like apparition of General Lasalle (not portrayed on stage).

The Pit and the Pendulum was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Music of Duke University. The present recording is a concert reduction for baritone, piano, and electronics. It has been recorded by baritone Thomas Meglioranza and pianist Blake Ray in December 2020.


00:00 N°1 – The judgement

05:00 Interlude 1

06:30 N°2 – The Pit

11:35 Interlude 2

12:40 N°3 – The Pendulum

18:30 Intelude 3

20:40 N°4 – All is not Lost

25:10 Interlude 4

26:20 N°5 – Rescue

Libretto for the concert version