Instrumentation: SATB and Orchestra
Duration: 11 minutes
Recording Available: No
Catalog ID: RE1028
View PDF Score
It is tempting, yet incorrect, to assume that the challenges society faces today
have never been faced by societies of the past. To place a priority on today and
suggest that it is historically unique denies commonality with the struggles of
past generations. While today, like yesterday and tomorrow, has its own enemies
and foes, when looking beyond exact characteristics, particularly the symptoms of
today's trials, one sees that a main concern we share with our ancestors is the
struggle to control our destiny.
This struggle is a primary subject of ancient Greek art. From the cycles of revenge in the Oresteia to the fate of Oedipus, the idea that the reins of human life are held ultimately by outside forces runs throughout their literature. Mike McFerron has selected text from Sophocles' Antigone, a work charged with such ideas, to highlight the connection between the fatalistic notions of the Greeks and today's opinions in the United States. To realize our lives are threatened by forces beyond our control is to recognize a connection with all human history; to hear laments of today echoing the words of Sophocles is to identify with men and women from that earlier time and place. That the specifics of their challenges differ from ours and that the medium of Sophocles differs from the composer's is beside the point.
In Odiporìa, the shared concerns of the two eras are highlighted through the composition's use of both the original text and a modern musical framework. The combination of the old language and new musical ideas enhances the link between the struggles of both eras. In addition, the musical focus on percussion, the oldest non-vocal musical expression, emphasizes not only the musical moment, but also recalls earlier times and joins today with the past.
Finally, though, the impassioned lamentation of both the text and the music makes up the heart of the composition. Humanity is described as "foolish and terrible," but a hope is expressed that with age comes wisdom. The desire for humans to control their destinies not as fools, but as wise men, is the main idea of the work. In the first fortissimo of Odiporìa, the chorus cries out, to both the heavens and humanity, a plea for wise self-determination that is tempered by sad appreciation of the base nature of humanity: "Theon! Theon te tan ipertatan, Gan afthiton" [God! God over the Earth, imperishable!]. The idea that humanity must grasp the reins of its destiny is tainted by a distrust of the driver; the wish for a benevolent guide to make correct decisions for us gives way to the realization that this guide must, in the end, be humanity itself. To take charge of our destinies as educated men and women is the wish of both Ancient Greece and 21st-century humankind; that we might avoid our repeated slide into folly is the shared plea.
Brooklyn, New York - 2002
Odiporìa (pronounced "O-thee-po-ree-a") was composed in 2002. When beginning
this work, I chose a global musical shape before choosing pitch, orchestrational,
rhythmic, or thematic materials. This is analogous to a painter determining what
to paint first instead of choosing what colors to begin painting with. Odiporìa
juxtaposes two opposing thematic ideas to generate the musical shape. Although
both are created using the same pitch material, they are initially presented in
different textural environments. Near the end of the composition, both musical
ideas coalesce to create a sustained climactic section.
From the genesis of the creative process, collaboration has played an important role. My special thanks to Juan F. Lamanna and the State University of New York at Oswego for commissioning this work. In addition, this work would not have been written if it were not for the collegiality, counsel, expertise, and immense help of Lawrence Sisk.
Lockport, Illinois - 2002
Text from Antigone by Sophocles
written 442 b.c.e.
Translation of Original Greek Text
adapted from the translation of Sir R.C. Jebb (1841-1905) by Mike McFerron
There are many things that are terrible,
But none is more terrible than man.
He is more powerful than the stormy sea,
Which threatens to engulf him.
God of the Earth-Imperishable!
He continues to plow away the soil each year at his own peril.
Man is destined for misfortune.
A wise person once stated
That for an instant, man embraces evil.
Thinking of himself as a god,
In time, he will lead himself to ruin.
Yet for this brief moment, such a man feels free.
But blessed are those who have not embraced evil ways.
Their houses will not be shaken by the hands of God,
And their families will not be taken from them.
Wisdom defines our happiness.
The most important element of wisdom is to be holy.
Arrogant men will receive the wrath of the gods.
Wisdom comes through experience and age.
Note: SATB is in Greek. Transliteration and pronunciation recording available