Feuertrunken (Fire-Drunk) (2017)

Commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Feuertrunken is a loud meditation (if one can meditate loudly) on joy. In the months that I spent composing the piece, between March–June 2017, I found little cause for celebration in the many goings-on both locally and abroad; perhaps this was the reason I thought the subject of joy had so much urgency.

During this time I also found myself absorbed in the Divine Comedy, especially the Purgatorio: Dante’s vision of purgatory is a giant mountain partitioned into seven terraces, each devoted to purification from one of the deadly sins. Dante ascends the mountain terrace by terrace, until at last he finds a great wall of fire between him and paradise. An angel of God encourages him to make the plunge into his final trial. Though my piece as a whole is not programmatic (meaning musical events generally do not correspond to anything in Dante’s story), there is a brief interlude in which I imagine Dante in devoted silence before he submits to the fire.

The title, meaning “fire-drunk” or “drunk with fire,” is of course from Friedrich Schiller’s famous “Ode to Joy:” “We enter, drunk with fire, Heavenly One, your sanctuary.” I thought some reference to Beethoven was the obvious route; instead I chose Mahler, whose music I think conveys joy so adeptly. Feuertrunken quotes the opening of Mahler’s first Symphony before veering off into various, intertwined episodes of supplication, blasphemy, and finally, praise.

Instrumentation: Piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in B flat, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (3 players: almglocken, bass drum, 2 bongos, chimes, China cymbal, glockenspiel, snare drum, suspended cymbal, tam-tam, tambourine, wind chimes, xylophone), harp, strings

Duration: 10 minutes

Premiere: December 9, 10, 2017, Max M. Fisher Music Center, Detroit, MI • Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, conductor

“Being drunk with fire sounds like a dangerous activity. However, the German title is from Schiller, a line from his Ode to Joy (“Wir betreten feuertrunken” – We enter, drunk with fire), and if that suggests Beethoven (his ‘Choral’ Symphony) it is to Mahler that Joshua Cerdenia leans, literally so in Feuertrunken, for its opening is from that composer’s First Symphony, for a couple of seconds, its dawn-like beginning becoming darker, questioning, then growing in intensity and energy, scored brilliantly for a large orchestra. Although there is something of a later breather there is no let-up in concentration, and then the wild ride continues (heralded to my ears by a conscious allusion to Beethoven 9, the stabs from contrabassoon and bass drum that cue the tenor’s solo), now even faster and with a sense of arrival and achievement. Terrific piece, and given a knockout second performance, the first was the night before. It’s no surprise to learn that Cerdenia is a pupil of Christopher Rouse (whose music I have long admired and been thrilled by), and while Cerdenia has an impressive style of his own, one can hear Rouse connections as well, which is all to the good.” —Colin Anderson, Classical Source

“Joshua Cerdenia is a student of Christopher Rouse, and the latter’s influence is clear. The ten-minute work is very well crafted and brilliantly orchestrated. Its title is Feuertrunken,or “Drunk with Fire.” This word appears in the Schiller text for the “Ode to Joy,” but also makes a connection with Mahler’s world. Joshua is certainly a composer to watch over the next several years.” —Leonard Slatkin