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Thea Musgrave

Publisher: Novello & Co

Helios - Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra (1994)
commissioned by the St Magnus Festival, Orkney, with funds from the Scottish Arts Council
Novello & Co Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
17 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Alternate Orchestration
Programme Note
Thea Musgrave Helios - Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra (1994)
Commissioned by the St Magnus Festival, Orkney, with funds from the Scottish Arts Council. First performance 17th June 1995. Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Kraemer, solo oboe Nicholas Daniel.

Helios, as described in the ancient Greek myth, is the god of the sun. Each day he drives his chariot across the heavens to the far west where his horses pasture in the islands of the Blessed. He then embarks with his horses on to a raft and sails home along the ocean stream which circles the globe.

Helios has some close parallels with Greek myth. The seating of the orchestra is such that visually the solo oboe stands at the helm of his ‘chariot’ while the horses are represented by a group of ‘concertante’ players (four woodwinds, two horns and one trumpet) and when these players stand at the climax of the work, the shape of the chariot is even more evident. The ‘concertante’ playing is also audible because of the virtuosic nature of the soloistic writing for them.

In response to the challenge of integrating musical and dramatic ideas, it will be seen that in Helios there is a true interplay of soloists and tutti. Though the solo oboe is at all times the leader and energiser, he shares some of the musical virtuosity with the concertante players.

The music starts in darkness and the soloist gradually approaches and rouses the concertante players to a musical climax with a theme in thirds played by a pair of horns.

A scherzo follows where the soloist, playing a quasi improvisando against rustling strings, incites the other wind players to join him. The strings begin to overwhelm the musical texture, and in response the oboe ‘summon’ his concertante players and together they ride out the storm.

The storm subsides and a cadenza for oboe follows. A quiet coda includes a section where the woodwind imitate the rippling of the ‘ocean stream’ as Helios completes his journey round the world. The Concerto ends very quietly with the oboe playing in its highest register.

Thea Musgrave

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Scottish Chamber Orchestra
    Nicholas Kraemer
    Collins Classics:
  • Ensemble
    Scottish Chamber Orchestra* / BBC Symphony Orchestra**
    Nicholas Daniel, oboe*
    Nicholas Kraemer* / Jac van Steen**
...Musgrave believes in keeping musicians on their toes; much of her work has a spatial or theatrical element, and throughout the programme the players are rarely in their seats. Helios, a dramatic oboe concerto, requires the orchestra to adopt the formation of a fiery chariot.
Alfred Hickling, The Guardian,12/12/2008
…it’s as invigorating and exhilarating a piece as Musgrave has ever written.
Michael Tumelty, Glasgow Herald,01/06/1995
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