Elizabeth Maconchy’s Héloïse and Abelard depicts the tragic romance between two ill-starred lovers of the twelfth century. Maconchy creates her own libretto from Abelard’s writings and the couple’s passionate correspondence.
The story of Héloïse and Abelard, ill-starred lovers of the early twelfth century, is universally known, and a mountain of books has been written about them, some scholarly, some largely fictional. In making this libretto the composer has avoided the works of fiction and drawn only on Abelard’s Historia Calamitatum in which he tells the tragic story in an open ‘Letter to a Friend’, his letters to Héloïse, and most of all on Héloïse’s passionate letters to Abelard. Two of Abelard’s Latin hymns, written at her request for Héloïse and the nuns of Paraclete, are included; also his Planctus or Lament and a tenth century love song, both sung in English, and a popular Latin song for the Students.
Héloïse emerges as the stronger and more remarkable character, despite Abelard’s eminence as a philosopher, his brilliance and magnetism: students flocked to hear him from all parts. Héloïse herself was a distinguished scholar and later became the renowned Abbess of the Paraclete and founded six daughter houses. She was revered and beloved by everyone. But the cantata is concerned only with her relationship to Aberlard, and ends with his death.
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