Keith Allegretti 



Carceri d'Invenzione

for orchestra (2014)


Program Note

In the mid 1740s, Italian artist and aspiring architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi completed a remarkable series of etchings known today as Le Carceri d'invenzione, or "Imaginary Prisons." Like the works of Francisco Goya some decades later, they are sepulchral and moody in nature, depicting intricate scenes of vast prison structures whose architectural complexities transcend the limits of physical possibility. Among the details are stone towers, stairwells, animal and human sculptures, pulleys, ropes, chains, drawbridges, and faint silhouettes of human figures. Having influenced artists and writers from Victor Hugo to Aldous Huxley, Le Carceri captured my attention as a fascinating and terrifying source of inspiration, providing the basis for an orchestral tone poem.

Carceri d'Invenzione unfolds as a nightmarish psychological drama, depicting the various moods and affects associated with Piranesi's work. It opens with an ostinato in the lowest instruments of the orchestra, over which a jagged melody enters, played by four horns. This melody is continually revisited and transformed throughout the piece, appearing in various cannons, chorale harmonizations, and levels of rhythmic augmentation and diminution, as well as moving throughout the different registers and instruments of the orchestra. Throughout the piece, the music maintains its gripping intensity and bombastic quality, creating a scene appropriate for the hyper-emotional phantasms of Piranesi's mind.

Duration: ca. 7 1/2 minutes


2 Flutes
2 Oboes
English Horn
2 Bb Clarinets
Bass Clarinet
2 Bassoons
4 F Horns
3 C Trumpets
2 Trombones
Bass Trombone
Timpani (five drums)
Percussion (3 players; percussion instruments are not shared)
1: Tam-tam, Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Marimba
2: Anvil, Suspended Cymbal, Crash Cymbals, Claves, Woodblock
3: Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Maracas, Wind Chimes, Triangle, Bowed Crotale

Performance History

February 9, 2014
Ann Arbor, Michigan
University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra
Tristan Rais-Sherman, conductor