The Infernal Machine was composed for the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra's European tour performances of 1981 and was completed in Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 21 of that year. Dedicated to my friend, Leslie Bassett, it was first performed at the Evian Festival (France) on May 9, 1981 by the above-named orchestra under the direction of Gustav Meier. Since that time it has been programmed by numerous orchestras, including the Berlin, Stockholm, New York, Buffalo, and Rochester Philharmonics, the Minnesota, Cleveland, and Louisville Orchestras, and the Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Saint Louis, Detroit, Baltimore, Houston, Cincinnati, National, and Milwaukee Symphonies.
The work takes its title from the eponymous play by Jean Cocteau, though that drama's retelling of the Oedipus myth had no influence on the piece. Rather it was my intention to compose a brief orchestral showpiece inspired by the vision of a great self-sufficient machine eternally in motion for no particular purpose. But while this machine is not specifically satanic, it is more than a little sinister. The score is a perpetuum mobile wherein the monster sometimes whirs along in mercurially unconcerned fashion, while at others it sputters or throws off slightly hellish sparks, occasionally grinding as it changes gears.
At the suggestion of my friend Joseph Schwantner, The Infernal Machine now also functions as the center movement of an orchestral triptych. Commissioned by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and first performed on October 24, 1986, Phantasmata surrounds The Infernal Machine with The Evestrum of Juan de la Cruz in the Sagrada Familia, 3 A.M. and Bump. Both The Infernal Machine and Bump may still be performed separately.
© 1981 by Christopher Rouse
These program notes can be reproduced free of charge with the following credit:
Reprinted by kind permission of Christopher Rouse
"Rouse...has created an exhilarating piece of musical clockwork that is not only colorful and cannily crafted, but great fun to listen to. The score takes off in a prestissimo whirl of chugging, twittering, grinding, slithering sounds that give way to the delicate shimmer of crystal goblets, which the flutists and oboists are asked to rub near the end of the 5-minute work. Here is one contemporary piece you wouldn't mind having encored on the spot."
"The Infernal Machine...proved to be a rousing overture to the concert...
"The constant pulse of this dissonantly colorful music puts it in the category of perpetual-motion pieces and its jazzy rhythms give it a good-humored spirit."
"The Infernal Machine abounds with wonderful orchestral effects. Its unique sonorities go by so rapidly that there is hardly time to catch them. This energetic whirlwind leaves the listener breathless at the end of its five minutes."