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Oedipus at Colonos

Felix Mendelssohn
(1809-47)



The portions of Sophocles’ tragedy, "Oedipus at Colonos," to which Mendelssohn set music are the banishment of the blind hero, the loving care of his daughters, his arrival at Attica, and his death in the gardens of the Eumenides at Colonos, absolved by the fate which had so cruelly pursued him.

The music to "Oedipus" was written at the command of the King of Prussia in 1843, and was first produced at Potsdam, November 1, 1845. It contains a short introduction and nine choral numbers. The first and second choruses describe the entrance of Oedipus and Antigone into grove of the Eumenides, their discovery by the people, the story of his sorrows which he relates to them, his meeting with his daughter Ismene, and the arrival of Theseus the King. The third number, double chorus, is the gem of the work, and is often given on the concert-stage. The first strophe is begun by one choir in unison after a short but graceful introduction which is repeated at the end of the strophe in another form, and then the second choir begins the antistrophe, set to the same beautiful melody. At its close the music changes in character and grows vigorous and excited as the first choir sings the second strophe, with which shortly the second choir joins in eight-part harmony. The latter takes up the strain again in the second antistrophe, singing the praise of "the mother city," and the number closes with the united invocation to Neptune -- an effect which has hardly been excelled in choral music. The fourth chorus, which is dramatic in its effect, tells of the assault of Creon upon Oedipus, and the fifth, his protection by Theseus, who comes to the rescue. In this number the double choirs unite in the appeal to the gods ("Dread Power, that fillest Heaven’s high Throne") to defend Theseus in the conflict. The sixth number ("When the Health and Strength are gone") is a pathetic description of the blind hero’s pitiful condition, and prepares the way for the powerful choruses in which his impeding fate is foreshadowed by the thunderbolts of Jove. The eight and ninth choruses are full of the mournful spirit of the tragedy itself, and tell of the mysterious disappearance of the Theban hero, engulfed in the opening earth, and the sorrowful lamentations of the daughters for the father whom they had served and loved so devotedly.





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