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Brian Elias

Publisher: Chester Music

Electra Mourns (2011),
Text Writer
Sophocles
Publisher
Chester Music Ltd
Category
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
2011
Duration
20 Minutes
Language
Greek
Soloist
Mezzo Soprano
Solo Instrument(s)
Cor Anglais


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Programme Note
Brian Elias Electra Mourns (2011),
The context of the speech I have set from ‘Electra’, a 5th Century BC play by the great dramatist Sophocles is:

A messenger gives Electra and her mother, Clytemnestra, a fabricated account of her brother, Orestes’ heroic death in a chariot race and his funeral. (He had been sent away as a young child by Electra to protect his life after the murder of their father Agamemnon by her mother and her then lover, later husband, Aegisthus.)

But Orestes is not dead; he returns to his home in disguise with his friend Pylades, wanting to test Electra’s loyalty to him. He gives her an urn which he says contains her brother’s ashes. Electra mourns before Orestes while cradling the urn.

Sophocles concentrates on Electra’s character and her motives. He portrays her as someone relentless and insatiable in her grief and in her desire for revenge for the murder of her father by her mother. Sophocles makes us question Electra’s morality and her sense of judgement; she is driven to near madness by her obsessive grieving and wish for revenge.

What sort of daughter would want to murder her mother and stepfather so savagely? What sort of sister would seek to propel her brother into this blood-libel? What sort of person seeks this as her only means of catharsis? Sophocles reminds us that despite the violence of her anger, Electra can still feel love and tenderness towards her brother but that such love may only be alive because she sees him as her sole hope of help in her quest for vengeance.

The work, a scena set in the original ancient Greek, was completed in January 2011. It is scored for Mezzo Soprano, solo Cor Anglais and String Orchestra, and lasts approximately 17 minutes. I am immensely grateful to Francesca Spiegel for her invaluable help with the language and its meaning.

Brian Elias


Winner of the British Composer Award 2013 Vocal Category. The judges' citation:

This is a truly marvellous work: mesmerising and breathtaking.

From the opening notes, it sustains a terrific level of intensity and gets inside one of the great dramas of Western culture. Both vocal and instrumental writing is full of skill, artistry, maturity and creative wisdom. The pairing of voice and cor anglais has an exquisite beauty.



Performances
Date
Title
  • 11 AUG 2012
    Electra Mourns World Premiere
    BBC Proms 2012
    Cadogan Hall, London, UK
    Britten Sinfonia
    Nicholas Daniel, oboe; Susan Bickley, soprano

Reviews
Electra Mourns is breathtakingly powerful, utilising a mezzo-soprano & cor anglais to become the combined mouthpiece of Electra, reinforced by a string orchestra. Elias has chosen to set the original Greek, yet while that decision distances the immediacy of the words, the music is so startlingly vivid that the gist is readily graspable. ... there are some wonderfully restrained moments, none better than the section towards the end where the mezzo levels out, becoming more quietly plaintive, & Elias drapes her words in the most exquisite texture from the strings, muted & translucent, moving in a semi-regular pulse against the free vocal line, creating a strange & delirious effect. Taken as a whole, the force & beauty of Elias’ setting only makes one wish he’d expand this triumphant scena into a full-blown opera; it might just give Richard Strauss a run for his money.
5:4,8/19/2012
Both of the obligato parts are florid and impassioned and are very effective, and the orchestral writing is striking and compelling. The whole work is admirable and impressive on just about every count.
Rodney Lister, sequenza21,8/17/2012
...stole the show as a moving study of madness and remorse.
Geoffrey Norris, Telegraph,8/13/2012
I'd be happy to pay another visit to Brian Elias's 17-minute vocal scena, Electra Mourns... The concert's music audibly echoed past traditions, and achieved something otherwise scarce: direct emotional expression.
Geoff Brown, theartsdesk.com,8/12/2012
Electra Mourns (2012) - Brian Elias's scena on said protagonist's monologue in Sophocles's drama and set to the original Greek, whose evocative and other-wordly sound audibly contributed to the hieratic nature of his music. A text of such unrelieved anguish and negativity inevitably invites a setting of comparably extreme expression, but Elias has countered this with a highly resourceful deployment of the string orchestra as well as that of cor anglais in what becomes an equivocal 'double' to the vocal part: a setting, then, which combines antecedents from the Baroque and Classical eras with an instrumental component that draws productively on a more recent tradition.
Richard Whitehouse, www.classicalsource.com,8/11/2012
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