• Hugh Wood
  • Ithaka, Op. 61 (2016)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

This work was commissioned by the Britten-Pears Foundation, the RVW Trust and the Swaledale Festival. It was first performed on 2nd June 2016 by the Florin Trio, at St. Andrew's Church, Grinton, as part of the 2016 Swaledale Festival.

  • vn.va.vc
  • 12 min

Programme Note

Cavafy’s poem, Ithaka, is a meditation on Ulysses’ homeward voyage. It promises him adventures and discoveries, but also dangers; the Laistrygonians, the Cyclops, and the sea-god Poseidon himself. These can be overcome by keeping his spirits high – for perhaps they only exist in his own soul. Sensual delights and intellectual feasts also wait for him on the way. But the journey must not be hurried: better to be old and full of experience when it is concluded.
I’ve always loved and learnt from this poem; and once read it at a friend’s funeral. I suppose this piece is a sort of mini Symphonic poem – it is at least programme music. The invocation of Ithaka itself (and of its differently accented name in Greek – Itháki) occurs early on, and returns at intervals as the island draws nearer. The long journey there is represented by two fugal expositions. The first one grows towards an aggressive confrontation with the Laistrygonians. Ithaka is heard, still far off. The second fugal passage then gives way to two lyrical sections, the later one featuring a viola solo. Rhetorical fanfares now show Ithaka to be in full view, and we reach the climax of the piece. After arrival the music is at last calmly lyrical, with solos for the violin and eventually the cello.
But the aftermath, with its last invocation of Ithaka (Itháki) is tragic in tone. Cavafy’s conclusion – and the whole point of the poem – is best expressed in his own words:

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

H.W.