The Golden Bough


Duration: 17 minutes

2 tenors and bass soloist, SATB chorus, Chamber Ensemble of 14 players (1111 1000 hp, pno, perc (2), 11111)

First performed by Ian Caddy, Christopher Lemmings, University of Bristol New Music Ensemble, cond. Jonathan Lyness, 12 May 1994, Glyn Wickham Theatre, Bristol

Selected for SPNM shortlist (1999)

Score available on request.
Listen to 2 extracts performed by Ian Caddy, Christopher Lemmings, University of Bristol New Music Ensemble conducted by Jonathan Lyness:

Programme Note

This is a chamber opera scene based on the Sixth Book of Virgil’s Aeneid. It was commissioned for an opera workshop at the University of Bristol, in which professional singers and students collaborated in staged operatic scenes.

To give a brief synopsis of this mini-opera, the scene opens at the funeral of Anchises, father of Aeneas, leader of the exiled Trojans. Aeneas is close to despair after years of wandering and his reluctance to join in the funeral rites disturbs his followers, who see it as a lack of respect for his dead father. Achates, loyal friend of Aeneas, tries to remonstrate with him, but when Aeneas lashes out at a singer, who is mimicking Anchises, and then finally throws the rites into confusion by plunging a firebrand pyre, the crowd disperse, leaving Aeneas alone in despair in front of the pyre.

I tried to base the text of the work around the structure of the pre-Roman funeral rites. Thus it opens with three recitations of the word ‘Vale’, the three final farewells, after which a funeral ode is delivered (here, by Achates). There is then a funeral oration, given by Aeneas, followed by dancing, in which I have tried to invoke the ancient Greek instruments of the panpipes, aulos (a sort of rebec with two pipes – here imitated by the oboe and bassoon), and the kithara (a plucked string instrument, imitated by the harp). I also drew on some of the few surviving fragments of the music of ancient Greece – both the oboe and bassoon passage and the singer’s music make use of ancient Greek melodies.