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SIX METAMORPHOSES AFTER OVID Op.49

SIX METAMORPHOSES AFTER OVID Op.49

Composer:Britten, Benjamin (1913-1976)
Instrumentation:ob.
Publisher Ref:M060015274
Six of the 250 myths told by Ovid some 2000 years ago in his 'Metamorphoses', atmospherically retold in music for unaccompanied oboe.

Price: £9.99
Qty
Skill Level:D/E
Duration:13'20
Publisher:Boosey & Hawkes Ltd
Year of Issue:1952
ISMN:M060015274
ISBN:none specified
It was in AD 8, when the Roman poet Ovid was exiled to Tomis on the Black Sea - we don't know why, that his 'Metamorphoses' were published. Loosely described as an epic, it recounts some two hundred and fifty classical myths in fifteen books, most of them dealing with the transformation of humans into animals or inanimate objects and vice-versa, often at the whim of one of the many classical gods and as a punishment for some transgression.

Benjamin Britten must have been familiar with 'Metamorphoses' when, in 1951, he chose six of its myths to retell as musical cameos for unaccompanied oboe. They were dedicated to Joy Boughton, the daughter of Britten's friend and fellow composer Rutland Boughton and she gave their first formal performance at the Aldeburgh Festival on 14 June 1951, although it is said that she had played them earlier from a punt on the boating lake at Thorpeness in Suffolk. Apparently the manuscript blew into the water and it bears evidence of its near mishap to this day. Britten's 'Metamorphoses', Op.49 has been described as "....one of the most distinctive examples of solo single-line instrumental writing from any age. It is technically demanding and enigmatic." The gist of each story is:-

Pan - The lustful Pan chases the wood nymph Syrinx until her way is blocked by the River Ladon. She prays for her sister water spirits to transform her so that when Pan seizes Syrinx, he finds himself with nothing but a handful of reeds - and the pan-pipes were born.

Phaeton - The proud and youthful Phaeton visits his father the Sun, seeking proof that he is indeed his son. Reluctantly, the father allows the son to drive his chariot through the sky, to prove his descent, but the boy is unable to control the chariot and the horses pulling it and his youthful arrogance changes to trembling fear. The earth catches fire and, to prevent its complete destruction, the Sun kills Phaeton with a lightning bolt.

Niobe - The mother of seven sons and seven daughters, the mortal Niobe is jealous of the worship paid to the goddess Leto who has only one of each (Apollo and Diana, who were pretty A List gods in their own right). She advises the women of Thebes to stop worshipping Leto who, enraged by this blasphemy, sends her two divine offspring to kill Niobe's fourteen. Surrounded by the bodies of her children, Niobe sings of her overwhelming grief which turns her to stone. She is whisked away to her own country by a whirlwind which sets her down on top of a mountain.

Bacchus - Being a god, Bacchus is not the subject of any transformation and this movement is a celebration of his nature and the bacchanalian festivities connected with it.

Narcissus - Wearied by hunting in the heat of the day, Narcissus comes across a clear, still pool and as he drinks from it, he is smitten by his reflection on the water and falls in love. Realizing that his love can never be fulfilled, he tears his clothes and beats himself in anguish. When he sees the damage he has done to himself reflected in the pool, he is overcome with grief and wastes away to nothing but a circle of white petals surrounding a golden yellow centre - the narcissus.

Arethusa - While swimming in a stream, the nymph Arethusa is frightened by the murmuring of the water so jumps out and runs away, pursued by the river god Alpheus, disguised as a man. She cries out for help to the goddess Dictyma who hides her in a thick cloud while Alpheus prowls around it searching for her. Sweating with terror, Arethusa leaves pools of water wherever she treads and these merge into a stream which Alpheus recognizes as his own element. He returns to his watery form and is united with the transformed Arethusa.

Althea Talbot-Howard, Oboe, presents an overview of Six Metamorphoses on her YouTube channel: http://youtu.be/IWcpHooDCw4 (copy and paste into your browser)
Althea also plays and teaches PAN: http://youtu.be/4NTWxlcbXgs and NIOBE: http://youtu.be/aeTx5iYxIIM

  • I. Pan "who played upon the reed pipe which was Syrinx, his beloved."
  • II. Phaeton "who rode upon the chariot of the sun for one day and was hurled into the river Padus by a thunderbolt."
  • III. Niobe "who, lamenting the death of her fourteen children, was turned into a mountain."
  • IV. Bacchus "at whose feasts is heard the noise of gaggling women's tattling tongues and shouting out of boys."
  • V. Narcissus "who fell in love with his own image and became a flower."
  • VI. Arethusa "who, flying from the love of Alpheus the river god, was turned into a fountain."


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