by Christopher Palmer

Moross considered this ballet score one of his very best works and it is sad that he never had the chance to hear it complete in its orchestral form, which is that of a theatre orchestra rather than a symphonic combination, so that the overall sound is quite different from the Symphony or Variations on a Waltz. The Last Judgement was composed in 1953, but the projected production never materialized. “All very Women’s Lib, twenty years before that became fashionable” the composer wrote to me (February 15, 1973). “Exonerating women of the Original Sin–where will we go next?” Here is a boiled-down version of the scenario, which should be read in conjunction with the titles of the ten dances.

The ballet opens with a light on the body of Eve lying in her grave. The Angel Gabriel appears and raises Eve from the dead. She discovers that she is in the presence of St. Peter and the 12 Judging Saints. Gabriel remains on stage all through the ballet as the recording Angel or the Sergeant-at-Arms of the court. The trial starts with the Saints questioning Eve. She protests her innocence. They bring on her husband, Adam. He shudders at the sight of her. He accuses her. She weeps violently.  He dances about her exhibiting his loathing.

St. Peter intervenes and asks Adam to tell his story. He insists that Eve must help him act it out. They start Adam’s version of the crime (the original sin). It is the story of a pure young man married to a woman who is essentially corrupt. Whenever corruption starts becoming apparent In her movements she hides them from him. But he is unaware and between them is great love. At this point he informs the Saints they must have the figure of the Benefactor appear. They agree and with a wave of his hand Adam summons him up. He is very shadowy. You never quite see him but you do see him well enough to recognize him later on at his reappearance. The Benefactor is benevolence itself, lie adores the struggling young couple and wants to help them. Then Eve decides to seduce the Benefactor, thinking that that will further her well-being.  Adam discovers them at a climax of their affair. He rushes in and separates them. There is a violent scene ending with her destroying him. She pounds him with her fists and he slowly sinks down under the blows. The Benefactor, ashamed, rushes off.

Eve strongly protests this version of her story. She tells St. Peter that he must call up she real figure of the third person in the triangle. There is great consternation among the Saints and they argue as to whether it should be done or not. The Angel Gabriel intervenes, and he, Peter and the Saints conjure up the Evil One.

The Evil One appears. He struts about among the Saints, who are all agog at seeing him for probably the first time in their lives. He is the Benefactor of Adam’s story, but very Satanic and glittering.  His offers of power and glory intrigue Adam but frighten Eve. Adam, though, wins out and slowly pushes Eve toward him. We now witness the growing corruption of Eve who, as she starts learning evil, becomes more and more debased. The dance mounts to a climax in which Eve finds herself enclasped by the Evil One with Adam watching like a voyeur. In a fit of loathing at what has become of herself, she turns on Adam destroying him (as before). The Evil One tries to take her back into his arms, but she throws him to the ground.

As the weeping Eve turns toward them, Sr. Peter and the Angel Gabriel come to her and raise her. The backdrop turns gold and the twelve Saints kneel in the beatitude position of Renaissance paintings as Peter and Gabriel accept Eve into Heaven.

Not the least interesting feature of The Last Judgement is the way Moross harnesses his extraordinary melodic fertility in the service of form. ln a 1975 interview Moross stated, “In opera, ballet, even musical comedy, the roundness of the performance is aided by the music. Good ballets, in particular, are nearly always done to music which help them formally.” Moross’ idea was to invent new themes for nine of the ten dances (number ten reprises the main theme of number 1), but then – and nobody ever thought of this refinement to make the primary theme of one dance become the secondary theme of the next.

Frequently the two themes are heard contrapuntally combined, but generally not before they have been stated separately; the result is, as in the jazzy number VII, “The Conjuring up of the Evil One,” a quite complex multi-layering of melodies, colors and even keys (an occasional hint of bitonality) not normally found in Moross’ work. Elsewhere Moross’ strategy is almost absurdly simple – the main theme of number III, for instance, becomes the chordal accompaniment (celesta, harp, vibraphone) to the heavenly melody of no. IV, ‘Adam and Eve in Eden.’ Yet this melody is not so ‘heavenly,’ not so sacrosanct, that it cannot be speeded up, even sent up, in the next dance, ‘Adam and Eve and the Benefactor.’ And so it goes on the graceful flute theme of that movement becomes, slowed down, a bluesy; bleary trombone solo half-way through the next. The concept may sound intellectual, but the result is total music, no hint of contrivance. And always in this score there is tension between the diatomic and the chromatic. This is unusual for Moross, whose music is for the most part consistently diatomic – because its source, folk music, is diatonic. But throughout musical history (notably in the 16th and 19th centuries) advanced chromaticism has been a disintegrative, destructive force and thence often associated with Evil, with the Devil] and all his works. This explains its disruptive presence here. However even if perhaps the Devil runs off with some of the most beguiling instrumental sonorities (e.g. the inspired simplicity of number VIII, with its solo vibraphone, harp and xylophone) he certainly doesn’t monopolize the best runes. There are plenty of those for everyone.