A Song of Orpheus

Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra or Chamber Orchestra

William Schuman

Performing Ensemble: Orchestra
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

The song "Orpheus With His Lute," upon which the "Fantasy" is based, was composed in 1944 for a production of "Henry VIII". Some years ago, my friend Vincent Persichetti, the composer, suggested that the song would make an excellent theme for a set of variations. His suggestions came to mind when I was searching for an idea for the work I had agreed to compose for Leonard Rose. Although the composition is not in the form of a set of variations, all the music grows out of the melodic line of the song which is stated at the very beginning of the composition. The words of the song are written in the cello part in order to enable the soloist to perform the melody with the clarity of a singer's projection. Knowing that the words should enhance listening pleasure, the composer requests that William Shakespeare's text be printed in the concert program books, or, if this is not possible, recited before the work is performed.

Orpheus with his lute made trees,
And the mountain tops that freeze,
Bow themselves, when he did sing:
To his music plants and flowers
Ever sprung; as sun and showers
There had made a lasting spring.

Everything that heard him play,
Even the billows of the sea,
Hung their heads, and then lay by.

In sweet music is such art,
Killing care and grief of heart,
Fall asleep, or hearing, die.

As the graceful lyricism of the cello solo unfolds, the instruments of the orchestra creep in with unobtrusive support. After the solo cello has completed the song, the oboe in turn takes up the melody in a duet with the solo cello. When the oboe reaches the last, long, held note of the song, the cello has a solo cadenza which forms a bridge to the scherzo-like middle section of the "Fantasy".

Here it is that the composer gives freest reign to the symphonic imagination for the development of characteristic turns and fragments of the song.

Another long cadenza-like passage for the cello, with occasional orchestral support, leads back to the opening tempo and to the mood of the original song. The muted, dying close is like a final distillate of the song on which the score is based. The orchestra of the "Fantasy" calls for 3 flutes (one alternating with piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, harp and the customary strings.

Available on Rental

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Ford Foundation for Leonard Rose.
Composition Date 1961
Duration 20:00
Orchestration Orch.: Solo Vcl.; 3 3 2 2 - 4 0 0 0; Hp. Str.
Chamber Orch. Version: Solo Vcl.; 2 2 3 2 - 1 0 0 0; Hp. Str.
Premiere February 17th, 1962. Leonard Rose, Cello, Indianapolis Symphony, conducted by Izler Solomon

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