A garden for Orpheus (octets: oboe, horn, percussion, guitar, harp, viola, cello, double bass)
by Elliott Gyger (1999)
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A Garden for Orpheus takes its title from a line drawing by Paul Klee. However, I also had in mind the numerous musical treatments of the Orpheus myth, and three in particular from the last thirty years: Birtwistle's mighty opera The Mask of Orpheus and its various satellite works; Henze's sombre a cappella choral cycle Orpheus behind the wire; and, perhaps most directly, Carter's setting of John Ashbery's Orpheus poem Syringa.
Although no attempt is made in A Garden for Orpheus to illustrate the events of the myth, several characteristics of the music may be heard as appropriately "Orphic". These include the prominent role of plucked string sounds (Orpheus' lyre); a tendency toward eloquent lamentation, focused particularly on the sound of the oboe d'amore; and the intimation, especially in the second of the two movements, of violent tragedy.
The ensemble is divided into two groups: a tenor-register trio (horn, guitar and cello), and a quintet (oboe d'amore, percussion, harp, viola and bass). This partition emerges gradually over the first half of the first movement, after which the trio takes on the role of a virtuosic concertino group. The partition begins to dissolve immediately in the second movement, however, as ideas from the first movement are recalled and developed more freely across the whole ensemble. The soloistic role passes from the trio to the quintet, whose members assert their individuality in a series of cadenzas over the course of the movement. The musical material for the entire work grows out of the resonant plucked chords of the opening, each of which pursues an independent trajectory to arrive at the coda one octave higher.
Instrumentation: Oboe d'amore in A, horn in F, percussion (1 player), guitar, harp, viola, cello, double bass.
Duration: 18 min.
Difficulty: Advanced — Professional.
Contents note: In 2 movements.
First performance: 23 Mar 03. Merkin Hall, New York, USA
Performances of this work
21 May 2018: at Elliott Gyger at 50 (Salon - Melbourne Recital Centre). Featuring Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM) New Music Ensemble.
23 Mar 03: Merkin Hall, New York, USA
7 May 99: Paine Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA
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