Oedipus -- A Music-Dance Drama
Voices Bass....................................Oedipus Tenor-Baritone..................Chorus Spokesman Bass.....................................Tiresias and the Herdsman Low Soprano......................Jocasta Six Sopranos (including one High soprano in section 17 only......................Chorus Complement Instruments:
Clarinet Chromelodeon I Bass Clarinet Chromelodeon I Sub-Bass Adapted Viola Chromelodeon II Adapted Cello Cloud-Chamber Bowls Adapted Guitar I Gourd Tree and Cone Gongs Adapted Guitar II Diamond Marimba String Bass Bass Marimba Kithara Ii Marimba Eroica Harmonic Canon II (two players)
Performance time: seventy-five to eighty minutes-no intermission.
This work falls naturally into eighteen musical sections, and although segments of free dialogue occur, there is at no time a real cessation of sound. The sections
1. Introduction 4. Tiresias Scene 2. Opening Scene 5. Second Chorus 3. First Chorus 6. Creon Scene 7. Jocasta Scene 13. Oedipus Scene 8. Incidental Music 14. Fifth Chorus 9. Third chorus 15. Instrumental Commentary 10. Messenger Scene 16. Antiphony 11. Fourth Chorus 17. Exit Oedipus: Dance-Pantomime 12. Herdsman Scene 18. Final Chorus and Coda
The last part of my statement of intention in the program for the first performance in 1952 follows:
I have not consciously linked the ancient Greece of Sophocles and this conception of his drama-twenty-four hundred years later. The work is presented as a human value necessarily pinned to a time and place, necessarily involving the oracular gods and Greek proper and place names, but, nevertheless, not necessarily Greek. So viewed, the question as to whether the present work is consonant with what is generally taken to be the "Greek spirit" is somewhat irrelevant.
Yet, from the standpoint of dramatic technique, it is a historical fact that the Greeks used some kind of "tone declamation" in their dramatic works, and that it was common practice among them to present language, music, and dance as a dramatic unity. In this conception I am striving for such a synthesis, not because it might lead me to the "Greek spirit," but because I believe in it.
The music is conceived as [the]emotional saturation, or transcendence, that it is the particular province of dramatic music to achieve. My idea has been to present the drama expressed by language, not to obscure it either by operatic aria or symphonic instrumentation. Hence, in critical dialogue, music enters almost insidiously, as tensions enter. The words of the players continue as before, spoken, not sung, but are a harmonic part of the music. In these settings the inflected words are little or no different from ordinary speech, except as emotional tensions make them different.
Assertive words and assertive music do not collide. Tone of spoken word and tone of instrument are intended to combine in a compact emotional or dramatic expression, each providing its singular ingredient. My intention is to bring human drama, made of words, movement, and music, to a level that a mind with average capacity for sensitivity and logic can understand and therefore evaluate.
When I met with W.B. Yeats in Dublin in the fall of 1934, I had with me a musical outline of my proposed setting of his version of the ancient drama. There was not yet a single musical note written down, but the outline presented a rather clear idea of what I proposed to do. The most drastic suggestion was the deletion of all of the self-analyzing and oracular expatiations in the dialogue after Oedipus' realization that, in the irrefragable pursuit of his destiny, he has fulfilled the oracle's prophecy. All that was left after his "O! O! All come to pass!" was the Fifth Chorus, his reentrance, blind (much reduced), and the Final Chorus. This removed perhaps an eighth of the drama's total dialogue.
In the final sections, music becomes dominant. After the Fifth Chorus, there is the Instrumental Commentary. It begins with the announcement that Jocasta has hanged herself, and the instruments and the chorus begin to comment (in meaningless syllables). The section ends with what I call a recreation of the palace madness entirely by instruments, except for the chorus shouting "O!-O!-O!-O!" at the very end. The Antiphony begins with the reappearance of Oedipus, and here the female chorus offers a responsive chant to each line of his misery.
The Oedipus Scene is the Recognition Scene, and constitutes the climax of all the dialogue that preceded it. But in Exit Oedipus: Dance-Pantomime, the music comes to its own climax as a philosophical and spiritual compendium of the drama (also with solo and chorus voices in meaningless syllables). The Final Chorus and Coda bring the work to a close.
I had been drawn to Yeats because of that marvelous experience of seeing eye to eye with him through his writings over a period of years__writings in which he expounded, and hoped for, a union of words and music in which "no word shall have an intonation or an accentuation it could not have in passionate speech." I do not recall that he objected in any way to my proposed treatment.
In 1951, seventeen years after these consultations and twelve years after the poet's death, I began to work out the music. But following performances and a recording, I was refused permission by the agent in charge to use the Yeats version on records. I then prepared a text of my own from public domain sources, mostly from the translation by Richard C. Jebb (on which, I discovered at that time, Yeats had also relied heavily) and rewrote the music where it joined the dialogue. This version was performed and recorded in 1954.
The new text was prepared for a modern American Audience, not for those steeped in the Greek language and Greek mythology. I therefore omitted Greek names that would not be meaningful dramatically. My friend Jordan Churchill, at that time a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State College, and a Greek scholar, objected to parts of my text and made a translation of his own. Where music was not involved, I used some of his suggestions.
Bass Clarinet and Adapted Viola were added to the second version, and in the rewriting of 1967, I changed the Chromelodeon II part to conform to its present tuning and added the Gourd Tree and Cone Gongs. These, which are not particularly breakable, were included because of my somewhat desperate feeling that some of the Cloud-Chamber Bowls might be broken before another performance was possible. (The Cloud-Chamber Bowls part was left blank. See Chapter 13.)
A final point of explanation: I wanted Tiresias, the blind prophet, and the Herdsman, who finally reveals Oedipus' identity, to be the same voice. Tiresias is accusatory, even arrogant, and he is all-knowing; the Herdsman is reluctant, humble, and all-knowing__in this case at least. It is the all-knowing element that they have in common. Together, they personify Oedipus' fate.