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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Turn of the 20th Century > Overture, "Phèdre" - Massenet


Overture, "Phèdre"

Jules Massenet
(1842-1912)



The overture to "Phèdre" one of Massenet’s early works, having been written in 1876, is very dramatic, and in its material closely follows the story as told by Racine in his tragedy of Phèdre, daughter of the Cretan King Minos, who becomes the wife of Theseus. In the unconventional manner of the mythological personage she next becomes enamored of Hippolytus, son of Theseus, but without any encouragement on the part of the former. Thereupon the crafty Phèdre makes Theseus jealous of his own son, and the father commits him to the vengeance of Neptune, who terrifies his horses with a sea monster while driving in his chariot. He is killed, but the skilful Aesculapius restores him to life, and Diana conveys him to Italy, where he lives happily ever after, under the protection of the charming nymph Egeria. The story, as will be observed, gives ample material for dramatic treatment. The overture opens with a massive, gloomy introduction, leading up to an impassioned theme for clarinet, suggesting Phèdre’s lament over her unrequited passion. After a counter theme for oboe the opening theme is heard again, and leads to another impassioned outburst as Hippolytus is about departing. The violins in unison follow with Phèdre’s declaration of love for Hippolytus, after which occur the storm and an impetuous outburst describing Neptune’s wrath. This thematic material is worked up, and the overture closes with the sombre, impressive theme which opened it.





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