Invocation of Orpheus (1989) was commissioned by The International Trumpet Guild and premiered by Stephen Burns in Santa Barbara in August, 1989. The work opens with Invocation (I), an offstage cadenza for solo trumpet, who represents the legendary singer, Orpheus. The onstage harp, representing Orpheus’ lyre, answers the trumpet’s calls, after which the trumpet joins the harp onstage. The strings then accompany them in an Aria (II), Rodriguez’ harmonization of L’Invocazione di Orfeo, a fragment from a lost opera by the earliest Italian opera composer, Jacobo Peri (1560-1625). The text, beginning with the words, Giote al canto mio, expresses Orpheus’ exultation at the power of his music, which was said to charm wild animals and, eventually in the story, even death itself:
Rejoice at my singing, o verdant forests.
Rejoice, my fields, the hillsides, and all around.
Echoes resound from every hidden valley.
Reborn in my bright sun, radiant with splendor
With its brilliance it puts to shame all below.
Enflames the spirit’s ardor and brightens all the day
And makes heaven and earth slaves to love.
In Chaconne (III) the composer draws from his own incidental music for an Orpheus-based theatre piece, Sexual Mythology, Part 1: The Underworld by Fred Curchack (b. 1948). Rodriguez weaves nine-bar variations, each phrase a step higher than the preceding one, over this setting of Curchack’s lyric,
Come across this borderline
That separates your world from mine…
Illusions of the mind and heart
Imagination’s shadow art…
A second Cadenza (IV) follows for the trumpet, again accompanied by the harp, which, as in the opening, echoes the trumpet’s phrases. In the brief Epilogue (V) the strings return and all forces play the serene closing phrases of Curchack’s Orpheus Sonnet:
But though I sing with all my being, this
Song is as of nothing to a kiss.
The musical language of Invocation of Orpheus is quasi-tonal, with the quotation from Peri and the prominent use of vertical sonorities built in thirds and sixths which cross frequently over the “borderline” into actual triads. These sonorities are fused into the composer’s characteristic “richly lyrical atonality” (Musical America) in a style “romantically dramatic” (Washington Post) and full of the composer’s “all-encompassing sense of humor” (The Los Angeles Times).