2. Sport, youth
Sport, youth, ring out your songs. —Medea
Along with you a troop of Bacchanals in Edonian dance beat the ground, now on the peak of Mount Pangaeus, now on the top of Thracian Pindus; now from among the women of Cadmus comes a maenad, impious comrade of Bacchus, with sacred fawn-skins wrapped around her loins. Now their hearts are maddened, and now their hair is flowing; and now, after rending Pentheus limb from limb, the Bacchanals, their bodies freed from the frenzy, look on their infamous deed as though they know it not. —Oedipus
I have no idea what an Edonian dance is, nor where Pangaeus or Pindus are located. The Bacchanalian moral of unfettered passion leading to catastrophe, however, is known in many forms, including this one with both sensual and religious subtexts. Seneca repeatedly warns against excess of all kinds, and the ecstatic killing of Pentheus by his mother and her Dionysian followers is among the most perfervid. The dance rhythm I bring in is actually a medieval danse royale.
This movement is in D Dorian, with C major juxtaposed against it: basically, the white keys of the piano centered on D or C. There’s a part where all the women sing in C major, but the instruments are playing D’s underneath them. It sounds somewhat like D Dorian, but off a bit. And there are sections with C’s under D Dorian.
But at “rending” the music goes into straight C major, the only time it happens, bright C major and C major seventh chords. It feels somehow like coming home. I thought that the gravity of the scene would be expressed better if we felt it as the Bacchanals, who are completely satisfied at this point, and not as judges.
18 Jun 2011. The Waking Sun. The Crossing, Tempesta di Mare. Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, 8 pm