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Thea Musgrave

Publisher: Novello & Co

Orfeo II: An Improvisation on a Theme (1975)
Novello & Co Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
14 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)

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Programme Note
Thea Musgrave Orfeo II: An Improvisation on a Theme (1975)
This work was originally commissioned by the BBC for James Galway, as a work for solo flute and tape (Orfeo 1): All the music on the tape would be an electronically treated recording of James Galway playing a variety of different flutes. It was first performed by him in this version in 1976.

Shortly after, another version (Orfeo 11) was written where all the music on the tape was distributed amongst 15 strings.

This work is intended as a simple retelling of the famous legend. The flute represents Orfeo; all the other elements and characters in the story are represented by the music for the strings. Orfeo's journey to the underworld exists only in his imagination. To heighten the effect of this separation of reality and imagination, much of the music of Euridice, the Furies, the Shades, is suggested by "memory elements" that is, quotations from the Orfeo of Gluck. They are woven into the fabric of the music. The whole work is thus focussed on Orfeo; on his mourning for Euridice and his vain attempts to recover her. In the end he has to resign himself to her loss.

  • Ensemble
    New Zealand Chamber Orchestra
    Alexa Still, flute
    Nicholas Braithwaite
  • Ensemble
    English Chamber Orchestra
    William Bennett, flute / Abigail Young violin obligato
    Richard Bernas
…It is a lovely work, full of ethereal shimmer and clever pathos. Ms Musgrave has created a striking 14-minute opera in which the hero happens to be played by a flute, the heroine by a distant violin, and the.. Greek-ish chorus.. by fourteen attending strings. The composer elegantly mixes expressive idioms here, her own lean modernism conveying the anguish of the bereaved Orpheus and a transparent distillation of Gluck. The protagonist’s vain search for a forbidden past is depicted in economical, sometimes even in literal strokes – strokes which have extraordinary cohesion and dramatic thrust I their favor.
Martin Bernheimer, Los Angeles Times,1/1/0001
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