Adjunct Music

Our page, "Music Hath Charm," is devoted to recordings which you may find of use in ritual. This page is devoted to the rich body of music which has been composed under the inspiration of Classical Hellas.

It is worth noting that the birth of opera was an attempt to recreate the tragedies and comedies of the Ancients. We routinely use the term 'Classical Music' to refer to that music which grew from the attempt to recapture the Classical past.

It is also worth noting that the attempt is not finished, nor ever likely to be. So long as people are inspired by Classical Hellas, there will be new 'Classical Music,' whatever the musical idiom or language.

As with our other page, we will number the reviews and add the newest to the top of the list. If you want to purchase the music, click on the underlined title and you will be taken to Amazon. (Not everything we review may be available, but we will try.)


6: My music club offered this recording of Gluck's "Alceste" at a bargain price, so I got it, and I am not unhappy. Ann Sofie von Otter is a marvelous singer, and the rest of the cast is excellent as well. It purports to be the first recording of the French version of the opera, and I am willing to accept that. Later I discovered that there is a video of this very production, but my budget does not allow for much in the way of duplication these days, so... If you want to see it, I will try and provide a link.

John Elliot Gardner is a fine conductor, and his notes delineate the difficulty of the task he faced in preparing this score. One might think that an opera score need merely be performed and interpreted, but that is not always the case. French opera, in particular, seems subject to endless fuzting about (thnk of how many versions there are of "Tales of Hoffmann") and here the difficulty is compounded by the composer himself. When he took his Vienna success (in Italian) to Paris ten years after its premier he did a rewrite, with the intention of making the opera particular to the French public in a way that it had been particular to the Viennese public. He made a lot of changes, and, according to Gardner, his notation and his instructions were fairly sloppy: he was the kind of composer who expected to be working personally on the project, and, like many modern musicians, he was not thinking about people having to know his intentions long after his death (though he was confident that the work would continue to be performed a hundred years later, so you would think he might have been more careful for posterity's sake).

Berlioz admired this score more than any other. Mozart grabbed pieces from it for his "Don Giovanni," particularly the music of the ghostly statue. (It was this music that George Bernard Shaw judged the only music fit to be heard in heaven; I wonder if Shaw had heard Gluck?) Yet Berlioz thought the opera to be unendingly gloomy, and Gardner makes all kinds of disparaging remarks in his notes; and even goes so far as to side with Berlioz in changing an imporant lyric, the most famous lyric in the opera, and thereby alteriing the most famous aria in a way that makes the opening barely recognizable.

Musicians are the most wonderful species: also the most arrogant.

Notwithstanding all that, this is a wonderful opera and a wonderful recording. The music is not unendingly gloomy, it has great variety, there are wonderful musical effects and orchestral color, and it is thoroughly pleasurable to listen to. If the charccter of Herakles is scaled down to plain nobility (in contrast to Euripides' orginal lout overcome with shame at his inappropriate behavior) its ok: he serves his dramatic function and, if we understand the notes correctly, he wasn't there in Vienna.

Gluck's major innovation in this opera is his use of the chorus as an important character in the drama, rather than just as a commentator. (How Greek of him!) Gluck was deeply aware of the feelings of the people as a community in this story, and he insisted that they have their part in the ending. This novel treatment of the chorus was later to reach its ultimate expression in Moussorsky's "Boris Godonov," where, it may be argued, the chorus (the people of Russia) constitute the central character.

You can follow this opera as drama or, unlike many operas, you can just put it on to listen to while you are puttering around the house or garden. Gluck's music is both beautiful and flexible, and it is recommended.

Click here for the CD of Alceste

And here is the DVD of Alceste


5: The French may have their faults, but one thing they do superbly well is silliness; maybe they do it better than anybody. They also manage a lush and indolent sound to their music that is seldom surpassed.

When I was young I first heard Jaques Ibert's beautiful "Escales" (Ports of Call) and it has not yet been displaced as the top of my list of pieces to listen to when I need to go Somewhere Else, somewhere to float in a warm ocean and be untroubled by the world in general.

Sadly, almost nothing else by Ibert ever gets programmed. There is a wonderful Concerto da Camera for Saxophone, and some years ago an opera company in Berkeley performed his charming opera "Angelique," but otherwise his exposure is minimal.

You must therefore imagine my delight in discovering a new recording of his (very) short opera "Persee et Adromede" (Perseus and Andromeda, or, The Happiest of the Three), a work as silly, as charming, and as purely gorgeous as one could ask for. Moreover, his treatment of his subject is embarrassingly close to mine own treatment of subject in my one act opera "The Dialogue of the Dragon:" though I hasten to add that Ibert outstrips me by far!

The Twentieth Century excelled in deconstructing things and mythological subjects were high on the list. (Listen, for instance, to Peggy Glanville-Hicks' treatment of the Homeric material in her opera "Nausicaa.") In Ibert's version of this story Perseus is a swaggering hero with not a lot of concentration on his (easily replaceable) beloved, and the monster set to guard our heroine on her desert isle is in love with her. The stage directions tell us that the heroine, Andromeda, is a naked redhead, which may explain why we don't see it on stage in America more often, but which should certainly recommend it for video.

A very easy piece to like, and beautifully recorded in 2002 with the talents of Annick Massis at Andromeda, Philippe Rouillon as Cathos, the Monster, and Yann Beuron as Perseus; with a quickie appearance by Melanie Moussay as Themis. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg under the baton of Jan Latham-Koenig provides spacious and transparent playing, absolutely necessary in Ibert, and the whole thing is a delight.

In addtion to the main item on the CD (which is only 40 minutes long: say, it would fit perfectly on commercial television!) there is also Ibert's symphonic interpretation of Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol," and a Sarabande from his ballet of "Don Quixote." Both well worth hearing, and both items that ought to be heard in concert and on broadcast far more often.

Persee Et Andromede

4: When I was young (long ago...centuries ago...) great violinists were old men. One expected the talent to take years in development, and one did not look to the man with the violin under his chin for anything but great music. All that has changed. We now have great violinists who are both male and female, who are young, and who are attractive enough to make it as film stars or in modeling. How the world has changed: for the better!

A case in point is Joshua Bell. I first took note of him when the radio started playing the beautiful Suite from West Side Story with Bell as soloist. The suite is arranged by Bernstein's friend William David Brohn and it is a refreshing change from that other tuneful showcase for the violin, the Suite from Carmen.

I love Bernstein in all his moods, and this Suite is a welcome addition to the many ways that one can hear the music from West Side Story; but it was Bell's incredible performance that caused me to send off for the CD. He has all the technique one could ask, but in addition he has the sensitivity and poety of performance that usually comes only after years.

Imagine my delight to discover that the disc also contains a brilliant violin arrangement of "Make Our Garden Grow," from Candide, arranged by John Corrigliano, a couple of arrangments by Brohn of pieces from "On the Town," and, the piece that gets it to this page, the "Serenade After Plato's Symposium."

The Serenade is cast in five sections and scored for solo violin, strings, harp and percussion; but Bernstein makes the orchestra sound much larger, and the overall effect is a showcase for the violin and conductor, who in the case of this fine recording is David Zinman.

Bernstein's daughter writes in the notes that the music does not need a reading of Plato for appreciation, and she right: but if you are familiar with the Symposium I am sure you will get more out of the music. If you are not familiar with Bernstein beyond the shows and films, this is an excellent way into the 'serious' composer's work, which I hold to be some of the best the United States ever produced.

And, should Bell ever tire of music, he can slip right into the space currently occupied by Tom Cruise.

Joshua Bell ~ Bernstein - West Side...


3: Well into the Nineteenth Century the name of Christoph Willibald Gluck was held in similar esteem as those of Mozart and Beethoven. Old European opera houses still have his bust displayed alongside those other worthies, and he was held in the highest regard by Berlioz and Wagner. Yet today a performance of anything by Gluck is a rarity, and that is a shame. His music is lovely and his concern with Classical themes is possibly greater than that of any other composer. The record catalgues show as high a regard as did those other great composers, yet populalr suppliers are not likely to have much by him available.

For most of my life I have been aware of Gluck as the composer of "Orfeo," and not much else. But recently I purchased a new recording of his "Iphigenie en Tauride," my initial attraction clearly being a recent reading of the tragedy (with a happy ending) by Euripides. This recording, on the Telarc label is purported to be the premier recording on period instruments, and I am willing to accept that, considering how neglected Gluck usually is.

The performance is just beautiful, under the direction of Martin Pearlman and featuring the Boston Baroque. Christine Goerke sings exquisitely as Iphigenie, as does Rodney Gilfrey (you might want to catch him as Stanley Kowalski in the Previn opera of "Streetcar Named Desire"). Vinson Cole produces not only a tender and lustorus tone, as Pylade, but conveys the love of the character who is not named as Orestes eromenos but who clearly is; and it is clear that Gluck understood it to be so. Stephen Salters is the villanous Thoas, and by deftly throwing in some vocal visciousness shows the characters darkness and desperation.

From an Hellenic point of view the problems of the piece are the very ones we face today with every 'adaptation' that trundles down the pike. The librettist just couldn't leave good enough alone. He had to make changes in the light of popular taste (which in Gluck's time was likely that of the aristocracy patronizing the piece). And they are not unreasonable changes, given the theater of Gluck's time; but they do represent a totally different dramaturgy.

Euripides moves the play along at breakneck speed through a series of speeches that reveal things and set the plot moving toward its inevitable end. One harrowing act.

Gluck's audience expected more than one act, an evening's entertainment: the use of all the latest theatrical technology, and a ballet as well. Oddly, though the Baroque period of music nicely coincides with the Age of Reason, providing us with all those very reasonable endings in Handel, Nicolas-Francois Guillard (the librettist) throws out the very reasonable ending that Euripides penned, with Thoas submitting to the will of the more powerful Gods, and replaces it with a highly unlikely rescue scene in which Orestes returns with a Greek army (maybe a record for fast, off-stage trips) and kills Thoas.

He also replaces the epiphany of Athena with an epiphany of Diana (this is in French, and our scholarly forebears equated Roman with Greek whenever possible).

Despite the departures from Euripides, the piece works, as it would not have had a Baroque composer stuck to the original. Moreover, there is great variety in the music as well as great and simple beauty. In this context the Scythians sound barbaric. And the beginning of Act IV features an aria that is clearly a precurser to Mozart's 'agitated' arias for the Queen of the Night and Donna Anna. The finale also presages Mozart.

One can hear clearly why Gluck was held in such high esteem!

I liked this well enough that I shall now be on a quest to get Gluck's other Greek operas.

That will take some selection, considering that there are 30 or 40 recording of Orfeo!

Gluck - Iphigénie en Tauride / Goerke ·...


2: Darius Milhaud was the only one of "Les Six" whom I had the privilege of meeting (at a performance of his three level ballet, "L'homme et son desire") and I have always been bothered by the lack of performance of his works, a highly varied body of marvelous and distinguished pieces that are at once daring and assimilable. Thus I am pleased to add to this list of adjunct pieces one of those items which is, finally, available again and on CD. It is, however a mixed blessing.

When first I encountered "The Libation Bearers" of Aeschylus my immediate reaction was to its basic musicality. All it needs is the music to make it an opera. The wonderful back and forth dialogue between Orestes and Elektra is words-as-music at it is!

But Milhaud has taken this work, and with the poet Paul Claudel, made it shorter and more intense by ejecting half the characters and most of the dialogue! It's barely 30 minutes long.

Not the way I would have approached it, but then, I am not French and I am not rebelling against the conventions of post-Wagnerian music at a time when there was no money for production.

"Les Choephores" is not an opera but a concert piece for soloists and chorus. The focus is on ideas rather than drama, and the center of the work is the idea of Justice, with a particularly French slant. The music itself is astonishing, moving from a driving freneticism at the beginning into an even more remarkable frenzy of rhythmic speech at the end. I guess you could think of it as early Twentieth Century French Rap for soloists and chorus. It's a cool piece, rhythmically wonderful and with great textures. But it does leave the field still open for the play to be set as an opera. Though Elektra and Orestes are present, Clytemesta and Aegisthes never appear, and the action therefore takes place even further offstage than usual.

There is only one recording, to the best of my knowledge, and it is in mono; but the sound is remarkably good, having been re-engineered digitally.

Albert Roussel was generally the Bad Boy of French music, which listening to his stuff today seems odd, for it is melodic and rich in orchestral color; not the least bit shocking. On the same recording as the Milhaud piece above one will find the Second Suite from Roussel's ballet "Bacchus et Ariane," music drawn from the second act where Bachus (Dionysos) saves Ariane (Ariadne) from suicide and (in this version of the story) makes her immortal with a kiss. This not only shortens the stage time of the myth, but leads into a fine and wild Bacchanal as a finale. It would be nice to have the whole ballet, but this suite comes with the Milhaud, and it is delightful music.

The third item on the CD is Honegger's 5th Symphony, a piece of beautiful contruction, tragic substance and great brevity.

Igor Markevich is the conductor, and his performance explains why it is worthwhile listening to older, mono recordings, when there are newer ones available in stereo by less brilliant and exciting artists.

Milhaud: Les Choéphores, Honegger,...

1: Sir Granville Bantock was, in his time, as important and as popular as Sir Edward Elgar. Like Elgar he was subjected to a long period of neglect after he died, which is odd, because at the time of his death (1946) the Bantock Society was founded by no less a luminary than Jean Sibelius. As the Twentieth Century rusted to a close, interest in Elgar once again blossomed; and now, as the Twenty-First Century begins to flower, an interest in Bantock is also blossoming.

Bantock's music enfolds subject matter that is wide ranging, from Ancient Egypt through the Bible, thorugh Shakespear through the Celtic Twilight: but for our purposes, the most interesting stuff is that inspired by Ancient Hellas: and there is a good deal of it, some of it among his most inspired composition.

His "Pagan Symphony" is quite clear in its conception of what 'Pagan' means: He prefaces the work with a quote from Horace, translated roughly as "Bacchus I have seen on far-off rocks -- if posterity will believe me -- teaching his songs divine to the listening Nymphs and to the goat-footed Satyrs with their pointed ears." His note continues: "The music may be described as a vision of the past, when the Greek God Dionysos was worshipped as the bestower of happiness and plenty, the lover of truth and beauty, the victor over the powers of evil.

"Immortal Aphrodite of the broidered throne appears for a brief moment as the Goddess of Love, to remind the world of her supreme power and glorius beauty."

The symphony is cast in a single rapturous movement, but you will have no trouble hearing Bantock's vision of Aphrodite or his Dance of the Satyrs.

Bantock: Pagan Symphony / Handley

His Third Symphony is titled "The Cyprian Goddess," or 'Aphrodite of Cyprus." Enough said! It is contained on the following CD:

Bantock: Variations; Dante and Beatrice

He composed as well a setting of Songs of Sappho, and a lot of incidental music for the Plays. The Sappho songs, and a Sapphic Poem (played on this recording by Julian Lloyd-Webber) are on the CD listed below. These three items should be a good start as to seeing what you might like. He is unabashedly English Romantic, perhaps somewhere between Elgar and Vaughn-Williams, and very easy on the ears.

Bantock: Sappho; Sapphic Poem


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