Orpheus and Eurydice (manuscript)

 

Orpheus and Eurydice is a programmatic work related to the Greek mythological characters of the same names.  Commissioned by a consortium of schools within the Pennsylvania Collegiate Bandmaster's Association in honor of the 60th Anniversary of the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Band, the work tells the tale of ill-fated lovers, with Orpheus, the sorrowful figure lamenting the death of his deceased lover, Eurydice.  Orpheus pleads with the underworld to release his love and resurrect her, charming Pluto with his musical abilities.  Pluto, under the spell of Orpheus' lyre, agrees, but on the condition that Orpheus depart the underworld and not look back, trusting that Eurydice is following him. Of course, Orpheus is not so strong, and tempted by doubt, he turns, only to see his love lost for eternity.  

 

Boysen’s work is sectional and opens with a dramatic, dark and ominous upheaval, perhaps as a precursor of what is to come, before slipping into an eerie “Dance of the Ill-Fated Lovers” presented first by oboe and bassoon. The following section, “The Death of Eurydice” comes as the dance fades away.   Represented by charged rhythmic passages that appear first  in the percussion and later in the winds and upper brass, there is  an illusion to the lover’s dance in the low brass as if Orpheus is now screaming and mourning at the loss of his beloved Eurydice.  The horror of Eurydice’s death subsides and “Orpheus’ Lament” begins, depicted by a solitary string bass and bassoon with interjections of extra-musical effects  which depicts a barren landscape that Orpheus traverses alone, dejected, heart-broken and full of angst.  Orpheus’ longing builds to a climax and then subsides, giving way to his thoughts of descending into Hades to win back his love.  A driving sixteenth-note passage played in the tom-toms creates a swirling, frenetic setting as the opening ominous gestures re-emerge, marking “Orpheus’ Descent into Hades”.  Pointed brass fanfares, upheaval in the low brass, incessant drive in the percussion and low reeds and swirling runs in the upper winds depict Orpheus’ battle to reach Pluto and find his beloved.  After fighting his way through Hades, “Orpheus Plays for Pluto” and the original dance of the ill-fated lovers music returns, this time rescored for bassoon and clarinet.  Interjections of discord expressed by various instruments reflect Pluto’s discomfort at the power of Orpheus’ lyre  which, as it builds, melds into the final section of the work, “Ascent and Final Loss”.  This is the shortest section of the work, culminating with a forceful discordant hammer stroke chord – perhaps the moment that Orpheus turns to see if his beloved is truly with him.  Alas, his doubt has doomed him and Eurydice fades away  Doubt has been too strong and the ominous chords heard in the beginning reappear, as if Pluto roars laughingly, leaving Orpheus alone and silent. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performance by the University of New Hampshire Wind Symphony, Dr. Andrew Boysen, conductor