Commissioned by the Stour Music Festival

  • 2rec/hpd/vc
  • 2fl
  • Countertenor
  • 10 min
  • Cecil Day Lewis's translation of work by Virgil

Programme Note

Nearing the Upper Air

This piece was commissioned by Stour Music and was given its world premiere on 3rd June last, during the Handel Festival in Halle, East Germany. It is a setting of the legend of Orpheus, as told by Virgil, in a translation by C Day-Lewis. The work is in one continuous movement, divided into many contrasting sections.

After a brief introduction the singer begins the story, the recorders closely echoing his notes. This is followed by a chorale-like section telling how the land laments the death of Eurydice. Then, singing to his lute, Orpheus himself joins the lamenting. Next the harpsichord enters playing a descending passage depicting the beginning of Orpheus' descent into the underworld. An agitated passage follows, where the creatures of the underworld come out to meet Orpheus' and are finally stilled by his song. This is interrupted, and the solo voice tells of Orpheus' fatal mistake of looking back. The ensuing tutti passage leads to Eurydice's impassioned and angry plaint beginning "Who has doomed me to misery?" Orpheus vents his own anger, which gradually turns into his lament at losing his love. Then in a section featuring an ostinato figure played by the harpsichord, we hear of his lonely travels, ending with his death at the hands of the Bacchantes. The last section of the work depicts the song sung by Orpheus' head as it floats on the river Herberus, whose banks echo Orpheus' ever-repeated cry of "Eurydice".