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Judith Weir

Publisher: Chester Music

The Consolations of Scholarship (1985)
commissioned by Musicon of Durham University, with funds from the Arts Council
Publisher
Novello & Co Ltd
Category
Soloist(s) and Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Year Composed
1985
Duration
25 Minutes
Soloist
soprano


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Programme Note
Judith Weir The Consolations of Scholarship (1985)
“The Consolations of Scholarship” is a music drama for solo soprano and ensemble, invented in the style of a Chinese Yüan drama from the 13th/14th century. Yüan dramas are the earliest extant form of Chinese play and they were written and acted by the native Chinese while their country was under the domination of Kublai Khan’s armies. The plays are simple, robust and cheerful in character but deal with philosophical issues, often satirically. The original performances apparently combined speaking, singing, instrumental interludes and mime. “The Consolations of Scholarship” makes extensive borrowings from two Yüan dramas (The Orphan of Chao by Chi Chun-hsiang and A Strategem of Interlocking Rings-anon-) as well as from other historical sources, including Mencius,
Marco Polo and the Mongolian Legal Code of 1291, translated by Paul
Heng-chao Ch’en. All the information about Yüan dramas comes from Liu Jung-en’s Six Yüan Plays (Penguin Classics 1972).

‘The Consolations of Scholarship’ was written for the Lontano Ensemble, and first performed at Durham University in 1985 by Linda Hirst (soprano) and the Lontano Ensemble, conducted by Odaline de la Martinez, to whom the work is dedicated. It was commissioned by Musicon (Durham University) with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain.

The movement titles are:

Act One
1. A Traveller in the Desert
2a Imperious Gestures
2b The General’s Aria
3a Last Moves
3b Chao Tun’s Letter Scene
4. Lamento

Interlude
5 Song of the Hermit, under Turtle Mountain

Act Two
6 The Consolations of Scholarship
7 A Shining Immortal
8 Interpretation Scene
9a The Chase to the Palace
9b The Emperor’s Decree

Synopsis
The virtuous government official Chao Tun is implicated in a plot against the Emperor by the ambitious and ruthless General K'an. Chao is sent a forged imperial edict to take his own life. Before doing so he tells his wife to leave the city with their newly- born son. The son is brought up by a hermit and twenty years later goes to the capital to read the neglected philosophical classics. Accidentally he stumbles across a text which reveals the truth about his father's death. Learning that K'an is now plotting against the Emperor he extracts revenge by warning the Emperor of the imminent attack. In gratitude the Emperor restores him to his Father's estates.

© Judith Weir


Preview the score:

  • Ensemble
    Lontano
    Soloist(s)
    Linda Hirst / Odaline de la Martinez
    United:
  • Novello Records:
  • Ensemble
    Ensemble X
    Soloist(s)
    Janice Kelly, Xak Bjerken, Judith Kellock
    Conductor
    Steven Stucky, Mark Davis Scatterday
    Albany Records:
Performances
Date
Title
Reviews
Musica Viva triumphs at Tanglewood By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff, 07/29/99 LENOX - The Boston Musica Viva was invited to be this year's distinguished guest ensemble during the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music in order to present the premiere of a new chamber opera by Osvaldo Golijov, who serves on the composition faculty. Because of family commitments, Golijov was unable to complete the work in time, so Musica Viva brought along the program it had substituted for the Golijov premiere in Boston: Nicholas Maw's "Ghost Dances" and the chamber opera "The Consolations of Scholarship" by Judith Weir, whose most recent work, "Natural History," was premiered by Dawn Upshaw and the Boston Symphony earlier this season. "The Consolations of Scholarship" is an opera based in the populist style of Yuan drama, the earliest surviving form of Chinese theater. One performer, the estimable Janice Felty, takes all the roles in a story of tyranny, escape, and restitution - Felty was in turn a traveler, a despotic general, a loyal civil servant, a hermit, an orphan boy, a shining immortal, and the Emperor. The English text is direct, demotic, and of almost Biblical simplicity. "My dear wife, you are now with child; it is a girl, no action need be taken; but if it is a boy, take him out of the city for safety ...when he becomes a man he shall avenge my death. When sorrow comes it comes as in a circle and cannot be rolled up with a mat." The music also appears simple, but like the text, it dodges among several dimensions of meaning, and achieves by understatement and indirection what Wagner spread out over 14 hours of music-drama. The text is always clear (and strongly rhythmical) in Weir's setting; it is also always surprising and implicative, and the chamber orchestra provides not just accompaniment but illustration and commentary. Felty was a potent vocal and theatrical presence, accomplishing everything Weir asks for with comparable economy of means and imagination of intent. The staging was properly minimal and intelligently focused; it was the work of Nicholas Deutsch and the wonderful lighting was by Nancy Goldstein. In Boston, the Musica Viva had supplied actual staging for Maw's "imaginary ballet" that many found inappropriate and inept, so the musicians simply played this extraordinary half-hour suite of dances and let the audience do the imagining. There are nine pieces in the work, which are performed uninterrupted. ("The Demon," "The Ballerina Overwhelmed," "The Frozen Moment," "Bacchanale" are among the titles and indices of character.) The pieces are linked by an "Insteada," some ritornelli, and an Epilogue. The music is scored in a masterly and imaginative way; a basic "Pierrot lunaire" ensemble is supplemented by doublings on African thumb piano, flexatone, Pakistani cymbals, one-stringed banjo, and kazoo. The music, like all of Maw's, is a highly personal assimilation of so many other, disparate things that it becomes individual and original. Music director Richard Pittman led with an experienced and enthusiastic hand. In the Maw, the expert players were Renee Krimsier (flute), Ian Greitzer (clarinet), the fabulously uninhibited Bayla Keyes (violin), Ronald Lowry (cello), and Vytas Baksys (piano); in the Weir they were joined by Laura Ahlbeck (oboe), Don Bravo (bassoon), Robert Marlatt (horn), and Robert Schulz (percussion). This present configuration of Musica Viva players is one of the strongest in its distinguished 30-year history. This story ran on page E03 of the Boston Globe on 07/29/99. © Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
Richard Dyer, Boston Globe,7/29/1999
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