Christopher Rouse’s “Phantasmata”: Three Haunting Hallucinations

The sixteenth century Swiss alchemist, Paracelsus, used the word “phantasmata” to describe “hallucinations created by thought.” Appropriately, Phantasmata is the title of an orchestral tryptic completed in 1985 by the late American composer, Christopher Rouse. It’s a piece which grew out of a series of haunting dream images.

The opening movement bears the descriptive title, “The Evestrum of Juan de la Cruz in the Sagrada Familia, 3 A.M.” It was inspired by an out-of-body experience—a mystical vision of a “somnambulatory journey” in which the spirit of Saint John of the Cross floats through the Catalan modernist architect Antoni Gaudí’s astonishing Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. Ghostly murmurs and shrieks emerge over a barely-audible rumble in the bass drum. Shimmering layers of sound drift through a cavernous, spine-chilling soundscape and then dissipate into the shadows.

The second movement, “The Infernal Machine,” grew out of the composer’s dream involving an enormous, eternally moving machine which grinds along and shoots off hellish sparks but ultimately has no purpose. Inexplicably, amid the changing gears, a snatch of late Beethoven bubbles to the surface with a quote of the Op. 130 String Quartet. Before its self-destruction, The Infernal Machine lets off one more earsplitting, metallic gasp.

Rouse described final movement, “Bump,” as a “‘nightmare conga’ characterized by a bass drum stroke on every fourth beat whose oppressive obstinacy adds to the overall feeling of menace.” It’s inspired by a vision of a “Boston Pops tour concert in Hell” in which the demons form a vast conga line. Big band swing blends with atonality. Like Halloween, this is music which is simultaneously terrifying and zany.

Recordings

Photograph: A spiral staircase at the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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