narrator and chamber ensemble of 4 players
Mixed Chamber Ensemble
'Tales from Ovid' translated by Ted Hughes
Commissioned by Counterpoise with support from Arts Council England, PRS for Music Foundation, RVW Trust and Holst Foundation
First Performance
4.5.10, Brighton Festival: Counterpoise (Eleanor Bron (narrator)/Alexandra Wood (vln)/Deborah Calland (tpt)/Kyle Horch (sax)/Iain Farrington (pno))

Score and parts for hire

Programme Notes

The text for Actaeon – chosen by Matthews himself, a former student of Classics – is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the translation by Ted Hughes. The poem tells the story of Actaeon who, out hunting one day, stumbles across a grotto where the goddess Diana is bathing naked with her female attendants. Diana, outraged at being observed in such a state, looks for a weapon with which to strike. Finding only water she scoops up a handful and splashes Actaeon’s eyes with it. From his forehead, immediately bursts ‘a rack of antlers’. He has been turned into a stag. As he leaps away from the grotto, ‘amazed at his own lightness’, his own hounds begin to give chase. The whole pack, many named individually by Ovid, pursues Actaeon over crags and cliffs. Eventually he is cornered and torn limb from limb, his friends urging the hounds to finish the task even while calling for Actaeon ‘to hurry and witness this last kill of the day’. Only when the life of the unfortunate Actaeon has been ‘torn from his bones’ does ‘the remorseless anger of Diana, goddess of the arrow, find peace’. Matthews’ score captures both the beauty of the natural landscape (swirling arpeggios on violin and piano evoke the cascading water in the bathing scene) and the thrill of the chase. The trumpet is associated particularly with the goddess Diana, while the saxophone frequently takes the part of Actaeon – note especially the questioning phrases at Actaeon’s transformation into a stag and his subsequent groans. The final part of the work has a pastoral folk-like quality: a poignant elegy for Actaeon, who meets his death on the very hills where he had once been so happy. The story of Actaeon was depicted by Titian in a pair of paintings, Diana and Actaeon and The Death of Actaeon. The latter is in the National Gallery while the former was recently saved for the nation, to be shared by the National Gallery and the National Gallery of Scotland. The two paintings have recently been displayed together in London and provided inspiration for Matthews in the composition of his work.

© Barry Millington

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