Music Played25 items
Maurice Ravel Lever du jour from Daphnis et Chloe, Lever du jour from Daphnis et Chloe
Performer: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado
On first looking into Chapman’s Homer (CH)
Homer (trans by George Chapman)
Beg of The Odyssey (CH)
Performer: CBSO, Simon Rattle
Cavafy (trans Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard)
Henri Duparc L'invitation au voyage
Performer: Barbara Hendricks, soprano, Orchestre de l’Opera de Lyon, John Eliot Gardiner
Jacques Offenbach Couplets des Rois from La belle Helene
Performer: Various soloists, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski
Faust’s speech from Dr Faustus (TM)
Richard Strauss Zweite Brautnacht from Die Agyptische Helene
Performer: Deborah Voigt, Helen, American Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein
Intro to Troilus and Cressida (CH)
Tippett Start of King Priam ("War! War!")
Performer: London Sinfonietta, London Sinfonietta Chorus, David Atherton
W. H. Auden
The Shield of Achilles (TM)
Tippett O rich-soiled land from King Priam
Performer: Robert Tear, Achilles, Timothy Walker, guitar, David Atherton
Cavafy (trans Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard)
The Horses of Achilles (CH)
Leonard Bernstein Agathon from Serenade (after Plato's Symposium)
Performer: Gidon Kremer, violin, Israel Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein
Plato (trans Benjamin Jowett)
Agathon’s speech from the Symposium (TM)
Racine (trans by Robert Bruce Boswell)
from Phaedra (CH)
Benjamin Britten Start of Phaedra to "I want your sword's spasmodic final inch"
Performer: Ann Murray, mezzo, ECO, Steuart Bedford
Goethe (trans Stephen Plunkett)
Performer: Ian Bostridge, tenor, Julius Drake, piano
Leda and the Swan (TM)
Igor Stravinsky Prologue to Apollon Musagete
Performer: Sinfonietta de Montreal, Charles Dutoit
Apollo Musagetes (TM)
Richard Strauss End of An dem Baum Daphne
Performer: BBC Singers, Choristers of Kings College, Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury
The culture and mythology of Ancient Greece have inspired a wide range of writers and composers: the plays of the Elizabethan dramatists William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe; the dramas of Racine during the 17th Century; Goethe; the Romantics Keats, Tennyson and Matthew Arnold; and in the 20th Century Yeats, Auden and Greece’s own Cavafy.
Cavafy’s Ithaka and Tennyson’s Ulysses both, in different ways, explore the notion of The Journey. And their reference point is one of the central myths of ancient Greek culture, the journey of Ulysses/Odysseus back to his homeland of Ithaka after the end of the Trojan War as recounted in Homer’s great epic the Odyssey.
And so we start this sequence with the famous opening to Homer’s Odyssey where the poet invokes the muse for inspiration and describes Ulysses/Odysseus (“the man of many devices”) as he sets out on his return journey. And before that, Keats, whose reading of Homer in the translations of George Chapman was a life-changing experience (“Much have I travelled in the realms of Gold”).
[Ravel, Nicholas Maw and Duparc all describe the sun-lit Mediterranean of Greece and the excitement of travel in their music]
It was the Greek king Menelaus’s wife, Helen who indirectly caused the Trojan War by running off with the Trojan Prince, Paris. Offenbach takes a sardonic view of the whole affair as the Greek kings and heroes march on in La Belle Hélène. But Christopher Marlowe and Richard Strauss allow themselves to be swept up in her overwhelming beauty.
The introductions to Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and Tippett’s King Priam both catapult us into the broil of the Trojan War itself. In The Shield of Achilles Auden reflects bitterly on the differences between the Greek world as described by Homer—a world where, even amid warfare, imagination naturally ran to scenes of peace—and the world of totalitarian horror Auden himself imagines. At the same time, Auden criticizes Homer for attributing glory to warriors. Auden's moral opprobrium is directed, not at Thetis or Hephaestus, but at "the strong iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles." But, away from the battle we see a softer side of Achilles in his tent, as he fantasizes with his friend Patroclus about their life after the war has finished.
The love of Achilles for Patroclus became one of the icons of male romantic love for the Greeks. Cavafy muses on The Horses of Achilles who are upset by the death of Patroclus and mourn the “eternal disaster of death”.
The Agathon movement from Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) leads from the Cavafy to Agathon’s speech in praise of love from Plato’s Symposium.
Ancient Greece seems to have been a very male-dominated society, with women definitely occupying a lower rung of importance. However Greek tragedy has given us some of the strongest female characters in world literature: Medea, Clytemnestra, Elektra and Phaedra whose obsessive sexual passion for the virginal Hippolytus ends in disaster (Racine, Britten)
The Greek male by contrast could either have been all-male, all-conquering heroes such as Odysseus and Achilles; or at the other extreme they were chaste epicene youths such as Hippolytus or Ganymede (Goethe, Schubert)
We come full circle with Yeats’s poem Leda and the Swan in which Zeus disguises himself as a swan in order to rape Leda who eventually gives birth to Helen whose elopement with Paris triggers the Trojan War
The journey to Ancient Greece ends on the slopes of Mount Parnassus with Apollo, the Greek god of poetry inspiring the 9 muses (Stravinsky, Matthew Arnold). And the sequence fades away as Words and Music become one in the wordless conclusion to Strauss’s An dem Baum Daphne: Daphne transformed into a laurel tree by Apollo.
Clive Portbury (producer)