"...a sea-god speaking" for bassoon & string orchestra (2003)
The impetus to write “...a sea god speaking” was a quote I read in the spring of 2002. In reference to the Mozart bassoon concerto the quote read, “with the bassoon, it is like a sea-god speaking.” After an initial, and admittedly superficial, fit of chuckling I began to see the author’s point and started thinking about writing a bassoon concerto. Now two years later, the work is completed (for now) and has four movements. Each movement is inspired by a Greek sea-god’s myth.
I.Oceanus & Tethys
Oceanus and his wife, Tethys, were Titans and the parents of the seas and streams of the world. This movement is fashioned somewhat in the form of an aria describing the ancient benevolence of these first sea-rulers. As well as being the name of a titan, Oceanus often refers to the river surrounding the earth (the Greek concept of the ocean). The opening chord of the piece, which will return at the end of the concerto, represents this ocean and is the seed containing all of the musical material of the concerto. The opening bassoon melody is a paraphrasing of a Radiohead song, the favorite band of Alex Eastley, for whom I wrote this work.
Proteus, also called ‘the old man of the sea’, was a sea god who had the gift of prophesy and ability to change shape. This movement, a set of variations and a theme, describes a story of Proteus from The Odyssey. Menelaus recounts a tale of how he captured ‘the old man of the sea’ and forced him to divulge the whereabouts of the lost Odysseus. He hid while Proteus emerged from the sea to shepherd his seals (Var. I) and, after counting them all, laid down to sleep. Menelaus grabbed Proteus who shape shifted into a Lion (Var. II), a serpent (Var. II), a wild boar (Var.III-pizzicatos), a leopard (Var.IV), liquid water (Var.V), a tree (Var.VI), and finally into himself (Theme), giving in to Menelaus’ grip. A point of interest to film buffs – the leopard variation contains a quote from “I can’t give you anything but love”, the song featured in the absurdist Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn film ‘Bringing up Baby.’
III.Thetis & Leucothia
This movement is inspired by two myths with the common theme of motherhood. Thetis was the mother of Achilles, the hero of the Iliad who was fated to die in that war. Thetis went to every extreme to protect her son. She dipped him as a baby in the river Styx to attempt to render him invulnerable and influenced much of the Trojan War but could not prevent her son’s fate. Leucothia, originally called Ino, flew from her frantic husband with her young son in her arms and sprang from a cliff into the sea. The gods took pity on her and raised she and her son into the sky as constellations and sea-gods named Leucothia and Palaemon. The movement is in three sections (Lullaby-Chase-Lullaby.) The first anxious lullaby is taken over by the chase, which builds to the leap off the cliff. The lullaby is transformed into a lament, which breaks down in a bassoon solo. The string canon, which ends the movement, represents the lifting of the mother and child into the heavens.
IV.Poseidon & Amphitrite
After the overthrow of the Titans the rule of the seas was given to the God Poseidon. Like many of the Gods, Poseidon was vain, ill tempered and often violent. He was responsible for storms and earthquakes as well as most of Odysseus’ sorrows. Amphitrite was a sea-nymph of great beauty (represented in this movement by the solo cello) that Poseidon decided to woo. Initially she rebuked him, but he engaged the services of the dolphin that pleaded his case for him until Amphitrite agreed to become his wife and rule the seas as his queen. One myth tells of Poseidon riding to woo Amphitrite standing on the backs of two dolphins. I chose to use this image in a fugato section with the bassoon representing Poseidon and two violins representing the dolphins.
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