Dzehennem (Hell)
(2003) 17’30’’
pno, perc (1)

(Percussion: 2 hanging cymbals, 2 loose cymbals, tam-tam, 4 bongos, 2 congas, 2 tom toms, 2 timpani (30”, 25”), gran Cassa, kickdrum;
sticks, beaters, rubber balls, bow, net, whip)

written for: De Watertoren
first performance: Broek-op-Langedijk, The Netherlands, jan. 2004

Based on god’s destruction of the Ben Hinnom valley (Jeremia 7)

Commissioned by the Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst

"Dzehennem shook the foundations of the church. It was an unforgettable experience for everybody present"

- Dominee Jan Andries de Boer

This piece was conceived to be a part of a service on the subject of hell, to be given by Dominee Jan Andries de Boer. The fragment from Jeremia, 7, about the destruction of the people of Ben Hinnom, captures in brief the unimaginable atrocity of a hell created by god, whose wrath demanded the annihilation of an entire people (who engaged in needless sacrifice of their own sons and daughters in the name of the almighty).
The music is a literal translation into sound of the old testament’s text. It starts with the cutting off of the hair and its throwing away. This gesture of grief introduces the lamento in the piano, which determines the first half of the piece: a bleak and desolate landscape, filled with dead bodies as far as the eye can see, in which a last survivor gazes in unbelief at the tragedy that came from the heavens. This lamento represents the sorrow of god at the foolishness of the people of Ben Hinnom. The bowed timpani imitate the metaphysical wails of the fallen and their souls tortured in hell.
After a brief bridge, in which god appeals to humanity and mourns the senselessness of human sacrifice (measures 46 - 67), the full scale of god’s wrath hits the Ben Hinnom valley and kills every living soul in it. This is represented by the solo percussion. The distance between the tam-tam (played with a whip) and the rest of the percussion setup symbolizes god’s reach unto earth; the initially short bursts of violence on the drums develop the melodical shreds of the lamento in their earthly manifestation. The absence of a rhythmical flow and the abrupt breaking off of each musical gesture carry the cruelness of untimely death, which reaches its own transcendence at the very end of the piece, where hell has moved into a metaphysical realm of endless and senseless destruction.
The piece thus tries to tell the story of the valley of Ben Hinnom from the perspective of god, which in true old-testamentary fashion appears not as the benign almighty power of love and forgiveness, which Christians know from the teachings of Christ, but rather as its precise opposite, a vengeful and merciless Lord of hell.
Etymologically, it is interesting to note that the name of the valley of Ben Hinnom, or Gen-ben Hinnom, and the occurrances there, became a symbol of ultimate hell in its later form Gehenna; the general Muslim word for hell is Dzehennem up to this date - hence the title of this piece.

I loved this commission. It is no secret I'm really not a Christian, but when Jan Andries, brother of pianist Laurens de Boer, explained what kind of piece I was supposed to write, it all made sense. The premiere was indeed an incomparable experience:

We'd spent the previous night drinking, Jan Andries being also a drummer with a serious music collection, and a dominee with a very unconventional approach to spreading the word of Christ, often accompanied by rather heavy music. At ten in the morning on sunday, the service starts (it had been decades that I'd attended a mass...) and the first thing the dominee does is blow out the big candle in front of the altar. The church was filled with village folk, not necessarily your typical experimental music audience. Laurens and Martijn Krijnen played the piece beautifully, but with a level of violence unheard of in a mass. The ending comes - 17 brutal piano clusters topped with ffff-hits on gran cassa, tam-tam and kick drum simultaneously by the percussion. Martijn put so much into it that he managed to break both the gran Cassa mallet (which cannoned straight into the congregation) and the kick drum pedal, and knock over the tam-tam with the whip, all right at the first hit. The image of those two guys channeling the wrath of god into this cute little Dutch village church, while the reverend tried to put the tam-tam back on its feet, and the audience watching this scene of mayhem in complete consternation, is something I will never forget. To my great surprise, it turned out that people loved it. Maybe there is a future for me in sacred music after all...

listen: Dzehennem clip

FMM dzehennempre