George Walker

Orpheus for Chamber Orchestra

    This work was commissioned by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony with partial funding from the George Gund Foundation.  Completed in October of 1994, it was premiered by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony on March 12, 13 and 14, 1995.  It is scored for flute, oboe, B flat clarinet, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, tympani, piano, harp, strings and percussion.  Several spoken lines are interpolated into the musical narrative.  The work is a retelling of the famous myth of Orpheus, the consummate musician, whose love for Eurydice was so great that he ventured into the Underworld, disdaining Cerberus, the three-headed canine guardian, to bring her back to life.  The condition imposed by Hades on Orpheus was that he would not be permitted to look back at Eurydice on the return journey.

    The work is divided into six sections.  Part I begins with a brief spoken preface that summarizes the Greek myth.  A fanfare and dance, initially elegant and then becoming increasingly frenetic, follow.  Part II begins with an instrumental song to Eurydice, terminating with her death and disappearance.  Part III, the Underworld, emerges without a clear separation and leads to the encounter of Orpheus with Hades.  Part IV recalls briefly the ascent of Orpheus and Eurydice from the Underworld and her final disappearance.  Part V suggests the agitation of Orpheus upon his realization of his loss.  In Part VI he dies, after being dismembered by the Ciconian Women.