• Thea Musgrave
  • Orfeo I (1975)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • fltp[=fl15str]
  • 14 min

Programme Note


Orfeo grieves for Euridice following her death from a snakebite. He persuades Charon to ferry him across the River Styx to the Underworld. He calms the Furies and they let him proceed, but on the condition that he must not look at Euridice until he has returned to the other side of the river. Orfeo hears Euridice approaching among the Shades. He shields his eyes, but she begs him to look at her: he cannot resist and Euridice vanishes for ever. Orfeo is attacked violently by the Bacchantes. He makes one last desperate plea, but finds himself back on the banks of the river Styx, alone and desolate.


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.

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 focused 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.