Samuel, Rhian: Clytemnestra for female voice & orchestra. Rental
Full score, vocal score and instrumental parts
Duration: 27 minutes
For soprano soloist, two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, bass guitar, timpani, xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, percussion (two players) and strings
I The Chain of Flame
II Lament for his Absence
III Agamemnon’s Return
IV The Deed
VII Epilogue: Dirge
Commissioned by the BBC
1st perf: Della Jones (soprano), BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Tadaaki Otaka (cond), Cardiff, 12 November 1994
1st broadcast perf: same performers, 5 February 1995 (BBC Radio 3)
This work sets to music several of Clytemnestra’s speeches from Agamemnon, the first part of Aeschylus’s trilogy, the Oresteia. It is divided into seven sections: in the first, ‘The Chain of Flame’, the Queen graphically describes the lighting of bonfires on mountain peaks between Troy and Greece to announce the battle victory of her husband, Agamemnon; the fires also announce Agamemnon’s imminent return to Mycenae. The second section, ‘Lament for his Absence’, shows Clytemnestra as the waiting, faithful, obedient wife.
The third, fourth and fifth sections form a continuous narrative: after the sound of advancing trumpets, Agamemnon arrives and Clytemnestra greets him ceremoniously; to the climactic thudding of the orchestra, she kills him (by wrapping him in his robe and stabbing him to death). Afterwards she contemplates what she has done, first quietly, then reaching a frenzy with the cry, ‘This is my work and I claim it!’
In the sixth section, muttering excitedly and defiantly, Clytemnestra faces the elders of the city. She announces for the first time the cause of her hatred of Agamemnon: on his way to Troy he sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, ’to charm the Thracian wind’ – to obtain fair sailing weather for his battle-fleet. The last movement is both a lament and a dirge; Clytemnestra weeps for her ‘sweetest flower, the child of my womb’, while the music contemplates the tragedy.
The work is not offered as a vindication of Clytemnestra’s violent act, but as an exploration of her conflicting emotions. After the murder, she describes her avowals of longing for her husband during his absence as
‘words which matched the time’; even so, they have some ring of truth. But there is no doubting her love for her daughter, Iphigenia, for whom Clytemnestra’s ‘tears in rivers ran’.
Clytemnestra has its roots in the emotional conflict of Greek drama, whose spirit it captures in a mode of address that is forthright and suggests the narration of epic events … A large orchestra is employed, with a widespread and busy percussion section imaginatively used, and the sonority surprisingly deepened at one point by a bass guitar … The work impresses by its informing practicality. Despite the large instrumental forces, important words are rarely smothered by either volume or texture … Samuel exhibits keen judgement of how far dynamics can be pushed without loss of impact. In the Lament it all becomes personal, perhaps the most effective stroke in the score.
Kenneth Loveland, Musical Opinion, Winter 1994
… nothing less than a major work … There is high drama, brilliant orchestration, sustained intensity. The BBC NOW under Tadaaki Otaka produced a well-prepared account and the singing of soloist Della Jones brought this wonderful piece to vivid life.
South Wales Echo, November 1994