The title of this work seems to have had a disturbing effect on many listeners and requires some explanation: the piece is not intended to be a celebration of devil worship. Rather, I see the satanic mass as a metaphor for the easy hypocrisy and expediency of survival in the modern world. I first got the idea for the piece over a decade ago, when one of my composer associates confessed that he was ready sell out but could not find anyone who was buying. In many ways this attitude transcends the Faust of old, because morality and principles are as disposable as the contemporary paper diaper.
"Euphas Metahim, frugativi et apellavi," the subtitle of the First Movement, entitled "Belphegor" after the notorious demon, comprises the words used to summon the spirits of evil (the summoner is suppoed to tear a live bird in half and then turn to the east). The words could also accompany human sacrifice (and should obviously not be pronounced aloud by the pianist). In the Grimorium Verum the three supreme demons are Lucifer, Beelzebuth, and Astaroth. In all, there are supposed to be ten evil sephiroth, counterparts of the ten divines. Belphegor is the sixth, a kind of demonic middle management and an appropriate symbol of that temptation to relax principles and sell out. The movement is frought with conflict and appears to be in a state of nervous exhilaration, leading to a tarantella-like coda which reverberates rhythmically throughout the entire piece. Traditionally, the tarantella was danced by those possessed by demons as the result of a venomous spider bite. It had the capacity to either kill or cure the victim, and thus represents a fulcrum balancing life and death, good and evil. Only at the very end of the coda do we hear a faint rendering of the famous "Dresden Amen." This music becomes the symbol of Madame de Montespan's redemption in the Third Movement.
The Second Movement is entitled ""Abramelin: The Sacred Magic of the Mage" and begins with an oblique reference to Hand of Glory, a piano work which I wrote for a concert at the Shanghai Conservatory in 1983. I wanted to begin with the grotesque image of a severed hand, dipped in wax, and set afire as part of an obscene ritual. Abramelin was an ancient magician who believed that the universe was populated by angels and demons who control everything in the world. Man is caught between these two forces. By means of the "Magic of Light" (a powerful will and purity) man can control these demons. The music has a flickering quality, suggesting strange ethers and potions, the stuff of magic.
The Third Movement refers to Madame (Marquise) de Montespan, who was born in 1641 and was a lady-in-waiting at the court of Louis XIV. She attempted to use good and finally evil magic to alienate the king from the attentions of his mistress and have herself installed in that position. Ultimately, she became religious and devoted herself to works of charity. In the depiction in my movement there are numerous Baroque stylistic references in the music, and I imagine Madame de Montespan dancing a frenetic waltz with the devil, ultimately tiring him (Satan not being of physical form), and escaping into heaven. The opening immediately suggests the conflict with a reprise of the piece's opening, mixed with a quote from Wagner's Parsifal, Act I, Scene 2, which uses the (now infamous) "Dresden Amen."
This piece is not really program music in that there is no continuous narrative, yet the arrangement of recurring images, often clothed in recognizable musical gestures, is a kind of cinematic mobile in which the balance of good and evil is constantly shifted. The piece was completed in the summer for a lecture-recital demonstration of the relationship between visual images and music, a pre-concert event to the premiere of Caldera with Ice Cave for Piano and String Orchestra, which occurred on Halloween, 2000.