Persephone and The Four Seasons (2006) for oboe solo and orchestra.

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

Commissioned by the Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston.

Max Hobart, music director.

Premiere performance by the Civic and Andrew price, oboe soloist. Dedicated to Ralph Gomberg. 

Program note. It is no surprise that I would write an oboe concerto sometime in my composing career, my middle name being the obvious reason. The opportunity came in 2005 when I suggested to Max Hobart that I write such a work for Andrew Price, the principal oboist of the Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston. Andrew has been principal with the CSO for at least the last ten years. Max thought it was a great idea. Andrew was thrilled.

The work is dedicated to oboist par excellence, Ralph Gomberg, Andrew's teacher and a beloved colleague of Max at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The next step in such an endeavor was to find a story.

A year ago Charles Ansbacher commissioned me to write the Pluto movement for a performance of Gustav Holst's "The Planets." In my search for the "lord of the underworld," I came across the story of Persephone on the Internet. "The beautiful daughter of Demeter and Zeus, Persephone is the focus of the story resulting in the division of the seasons, giving us the sweetness of Spring and the bitterness of Winter. Pluto did not woo the beautiful Persephone; he abducted her and took her to his underground kingdom. After much protest, Persephone came to love the cold-blooded king of the underworld but her mother, Demeter, was consumed with rage and sorrow. She demonstrated her anger by punishing the earth’s inhabitants with bitter cold and blustering winds. Unless Persephone was returned to her mother’s side, the earth would perish. Heracles came to the rescue. He entered the kingdom of Pluto and negotiated a compromise between Pluto (usually cold and selfish) and Demeter (usually loving and caring). All agreed that Persephone would spend part of the year with her husband, Pluto, and part of the year with her mother, Demeter. When Persephone is with Pluto the earth is wracked by the sorrow of her mother. But, when Persephone returns from the underworld to walk the earth again, Demeter pours forth the blessings of spring to welcome her beloved daughter home." [***See footnote.]

Naturally, the story resonated with me deeply. It also reminded me of that beautiful marble statue of Pluto and Persephone by Gianlorenzo Bernini at the Galleria Borghese in Rome. I told Max I would write a concerto based on this story and call it "Persephone and the Four Seasons" – a nod to Antonio Vivaldi, since the oboe is such a quintessential baroque instrument. In many ways, my concerto is quite balletic in its narrative/libretto. I have been a student of dance, exclusively ballet, since the summer of 1988. I have not only learned a lot about the art form as a practitioner, but have also accumulated a vast knowledge of its history and the major characters who have shaped that history. I have also collected a massive amount of ballet memorabilia in terms of letters, autographs and photos. Consequently all stories in my book are ballet stories.

Persephone and the Four Seasons is in four movements.

I. Summer Adagio. The music begins with a sunrise. Allegro. Persephone rushes into the warm summer air and does a pas seul.

II. Autumn Scherzo. Pluto sees Persephone, grabs her, and takes her into his world beneath the Earth.

III. Winter Adagio. It is night. Persephone laments and misses her mother, Demeter. Moderato. Pluto asks Persephone to marry him. She says yes. [In a ballet libretto this would be the grand pas de deux.]

IV. Spring Allegro. Pluto allows Persephone to visit her mother. Flowers grow again and leaves appear on branches. The air is warm. Persephone embraces her mother and dances joyously in the glow of the sun.

***Michael Stewart, "Greek Mythology: From the Iliad to the Fall of the Last Tyrant."

Year composed: 2006
Duration: 00:17:00
Ensemble type: Orchestra:Orchestra with Soloist(s)
Instrumentation: 2 Flute, ,1 Oboe soloist(s), 2 Clarinet, 2 Bassoon, 4 Horn in F, 2 Trumpet, 2 Percussion (General), 1 Strings (General), 1 Harp
Instrumentation notes: Oboe concerto

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