Eurydice ... A Tone Poem For Cello And Orchestra (1995)

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

Program notes:

Eurydice ... A tone-poem for cello and orchestra (1994-95)

When I presented to Max Hobart the idea of composing a new work for Andrés Díaz and the Civic Symphony Orchestra, he suggested that I, instead of writing a conventional "concerto," consider writing a tone-poem for cello and orchestra. I thought, why not? I always enjoy a good challenge. So, I looked into all that wonderful stuff Hector Berlioz and Richard Strauss came up with in that genre - "Symphonie Fantastique," "Harold in Italy," "Romeo and Juliet," "Don Quixote," "Ein Heldenleben," "Tod und Verklärung," etc. I had a blast re-living the joy of all that out-pouring of emotion, orchestral colors, and unihibited romantic excess in musical expression.

In choosing my subject, I went straight to the reason why I wanted to write a piece for Andrés in the first place - the wonderful tone and singing quality of his cello and that soulful voice only he can project - a voice that charms and enchants. Orpheus seemed the perfect subject.

According to Greek myth, Orpheus' singing lyre put everyone who listened into a spell. Edith Hamilton writes in her book, Mythology, "There was no limit to his power when he played and sang. No one and nothing could resist him. Everything animate and inanimate followed Orpheus. He could move trees, mountains, and change the courses of rivers."

My tone-poem is about Orpheus and Eurydice, a love story in which Orpheus loses Eurydice soon after their wedding. He laments her death, and then resolves to rescue her from the Underworld. Because his singing is so beautiful and irresistible, the Furies cannot refuse his request to return Eurydice. With Eurydice in his arms, finally, they dance. But the denizens of the Underworld change their minds and take her away again. In the aftermath, Orpheus laments his loss once more.

It is true, the myth has been a favorite subject among composers since the advent of opera in the 1600's. A few of the better-known examples: Jacopo Peri's "Euridice," Claudio Monteverdi's "Orfeo," Christoph Willibald von Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice," Jacques Offenbach's operetta, "Orpheus in the Underworld," and Igor Stravinsky's ballet, "Orpheus."

It seems like a tremendous responsibility and burden for a composer to try to come up with something "new" after all these precedents. But, what the heck, there really isn't anything "new" or "shocking" anymore these days. A composer does not always consciously try for the "new." It is just as important to make music that speaks to the heart. Music with dramatic narrative. Music that moves. In that sense, my "Eurydice" is music theater. And, in the process, should a "masterpiece" reveal itself, so much the better.

The work is in four movements, played without pause -

I. Orpheus weeps

II. Orpheus' resolve

III. Orpheus and Eurydice

IV. Orpheus' apotheosis

First performances -

1) Cello and piano version on February 27, 1995, in Gasson 100, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA Andrés Díaz and Judith Gordon

2) Cello and orchestra version on April 30, 1995, in the Fine Arts Center, Regis College, Weston, MA Andrés Díaz and the Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston, conducted by Max Hobart

Year composed: 1995
Duration: 00:34:00
Ensemble type: Orchestra:Orchestra with Soloist(s)
Instrumentation notes: Cello Concerto

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