The score of Medea was commissioned by the Ditson Fund of Columbia University for Martha Graham and was first danced by her and her company at the Macmillan Theater of Columbia University in May of 1946. Miss Graham uses the title Cave of the Heart for her ballet, but the composer has preferred to use the original source of the idea as the title for the suite for full orchestra. The score is dedicated to Martha Graham.
Neither Miss Graham nor the composer wished to use the Medea-Jason legend literally in the ballet. These mythical figures served rather to project psychological states of jealousy and vengeance which are timeless.
The choreography and music were conceived, as it were, on two time levels, the ancient mythical and the contemporary. Medea and Jason first appear as godlike, super-human figures of the Greek tragedy. As the tension and conflict between them increases, they step out of their legendary roles from lime to time and become the modern man and woman, caught in the nets of jealousy and destructive love; and at the end reassume their mythical quality. In both the dancing and music, archaic and contemporary idioms are used. Medea, in her final scene after the denouement, becomes once more the descendant of the sun.
Beside Medea and Jason there are two other characters in the ballet, the Young Princess whom Jason marries out of ambition and for whom he betrays Medea and attendant who assumes the part of the onlooking chorus of the Greek tragedy, sympathizing, consoling and interpreting the actions of the major characters.
The suite follows roughly the form of a Greek tragedy. In the Parados the characters first appear. The Choros, lyric and reflective, comments on the action which is to unfold. The Young Princess appears in a dance of freshness and innocence, followed by a heroic dance of Jason. Another plaintive Choros leads to Medea's dance of obsessive and diabolical vengeance. The Kantikos Agonias, an interlude of menace and foreboding, follows Medea’s terrible crime, the murder of the Princes and her own children, announced at the beginning of the Exodus by a violent fanfare of trumpets. In this final section the various themes of the chief characters of the work are blended together; little by little the music subsides and Medea and Jason recede into the legendary past.
-- Samuel Barber
2. Choros. Medea and Jason
3. The Young Princess. Jason
6. Kantikos Agonias