• John Tavener
  • The Immurement of Antigone (1978)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

  • 2afl.2cbn/4320/2timp.5perc/hp.cel/str
  • dramatic mezzo soprano
  • 19 min
  • Gerard McLarnon
  • English

Programme Note

'Last daughter of your royal house, go I his prisoner, because I honoured those things to which honour truly belongs.' This quotation from Sophocles, spoken by Antigone, heads the score. The Immurement of Antigone is dedicated to my parents. This work was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain. It was written in 1978. The first performance was given by the RPO with Vivien Townley (soprano) conducted by Wolfgang Rennert on 30 March 1979 at the Royal Festival Hall, London. The text is by Gerard McLarnon with whom I have collaborated on several works. It is a monodrama for soprano and orchestra; the orchestra is unusual for its use of two sets of timpani and a woodwind section consisting only of alto flutes and contrabassoons. The form of the music is dictated by the dramatic scenario. The walling-up of Antigone in three stages, from her waist to her heart and to her head, is mirrored in orchestral and vocal terms. The only living creature that Antigone sees is a bird and she sings a blessing on it. "Give it gentle life, when my life is gone."

I conceived the vocal line of the entire work 'complete' as a somewhat anguished continuous melodic line. All the orchestral material derives from this and the constant pulse of the whole work, marked out by the timpani at the start, helps to build the inevitability and final catharsis of the tragedy. The vocal line is constantly entwined and mirrored by the instruments: first the alto flute and marimba in 'A bridal dress of stone' and later by the muted trumpet and marimba in 'Heart high are the stones'. This emphasised the deeply incestuous nature of Antigone's birth and the appalling claustrophobic manner of her death. As the tragedy proceeds, the accompaniment to Antigone's death song thickens by degrees until she is almost covered up by the orchestra. Her tessitura rises, too, emphasising her total conviction in what she is doing although she is, in the eyes of Greek law, 'outlawed'.

John Tavener