Seven Deadly Sins is comprised of seven movements, one for each of the sins. These pieces were inspired by readings from Solomon Schimmel’s The Seven Deadly Sins, Jewish, Christian, and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology in which each of the sins are described in terms of their historical origins and their ramifications on our society. The sins are characterized by their devious nature, seemingly harmless in the initial stages, but completely devastating when they infect one’s mind and soul. For example, pride can be seen on the one hand as a positive attribute, especially when displayed as personal confidence. But if pride takes root and makes the individual feel superior over others, the confidence turns to defensiveness as the individual becomes obsessed with maintaining that superiority. Hence, the potential for much greater evil exists.
In composing this work, I attempted to distill the emotional essence of each of the sins and represent them as musical gestures heard at the outset of the movements. In some cases, I utilized imagery from religious and classical texts on the subject. An example is Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queene where gluttony is depicted as a detestable beast with an excessively long neck that parades around drunk on the back of a swine. In developing these themes, I sought to represent the gradual moral decline and ultimate loss of control inherent in each of the sins. Although all the movements follow this pattern, they differ in terms of the nature of their decline. For instance, “Envy” begins as a plaintive melody in the flute accompanied by a somewhat angst-ridden gesture in the piano. Throughout the course of the piece the accompaniment becomes more prominent as it attempts to assert itself over the melody, the object of envy, which continues unaffected by the increasingly emphatic gestures in the piano. “Greed,” on the other hand, is represented by a chase scenario, symbolizing the sense of unattainable satisfaction associated with this sin. Short chords in the piano part attempt to align with accents in the flute line but never quite catch up. This scenario continues and is realized in a variety of different ways. In the last section, the chase culminates in a passage of 32nd notes where the contours of the flute gestures are mimicked by the piano only a fraction of a step behind. The piece ends with a downward flurry leaving the piano part by itself pounding away in frustration on the bottom keys.
This work was commissioned by Thomas Robertello with the idea that he would perform it with Winston Choi. Knowing both Mr. Robertello’s and Mr. Choi’s playing quite intimately, I was inspired to write a work that would capitalize on their extreme virtuosity and sensitivity to the slightest nuances. As a composer, the task of transmitting the subtle inflections of human behavior in a musical form was quite difficult, but was made much easier knowing the depth and range of these two great performers.
Seven Deadly Sins was completed in the summer of 2002.