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Proof Against Burning

for orchestra

Year:  2008   ·  Duration:  11m 30s
Instrumentation:  1*212; 2200; timp., perc.; strings ( Perc: Snare Drum, 2 Woodblocks, Tambourine, Suspended Cymbal, Triangle, Bongo Drum, Crash Cymbals)

Year:  2008
Duration:  11m 30s
Instrumentation  1*212; 2200; timp., perc.; ...

Composer:   Louise Webster

Films, Audio & Samples

Sample Audio

Sample: 0'00" - 1'00" Third Movement

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Sample Audio

Sample: 0'00" - 1'00" Second Movement

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Sample Audio

Sample: 0'00" - 1'00" Fourth Movement

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Sample Audio

Sample: 0'00" - 1'00" First Movement

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Sample Score

Sample: first two pages of each movement

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At the height of the witch-hunts in Europe between the years 1450 to 1700, it is believed that as many as 100,000 people were executed for witchcraft. Burning at the stake was a favoured form of execution. The interrogations and proofs of guilt or innocence were terrifying and bizarre, and included ‘trials by ordeal’ in which the innocent were expected to remove a stone from a cauldron of boiling water without being burned, float on water with a millstone around the neck, or stand with outstretched arms before a cross without tiring. ‘Spectral evidence’, or the appearance of the spirit of the accused in a witness’ dream or vision, was also admitted as evidence of witchcraft. Although prosecutions for witchcraft waned in number after the 17th century, groups of people have continued to be imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and executed on the basis of race, belief, or alleged wrong-doing. The burden of proof has relied on similarly circular and bizarre processes in detention centres in Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Guantanamo Bay, to name just a few.

These four short movements for orchestra are named after the proofs used in traditional witch-hunts, and remind us that similar injustices continue to this day.

Difficulty note

good community orchestra, professional orchestra

Contents note

Four movements:

  1. Cauldron and stone
  2. Floating on water
  3. Spectral evidence
  4. Ordeal of the cross

Performance history

14 Sep 2008: Performed by the St. Matthew's Chamber Orchestra conducted by Michael Joel, at St. Matthew-in-the-city, Auckland.