The orchestra quietly begins the solemn prelude (Andante maestoso)
in the key of D major in the cellos and Violas on a ground bass.
Ex. 1. Much of the music of the prelude is later to be heard
in act III. For example the ground bass at the opening of the
prelude is harmonized when set to the words 'That God whom unknown
so long' in act III.
The music of the prelude anticipates the final hymn to Dionysus
in act III, where it is used without harmonies at the moment
Dionysus sets his thyrsus in Ariadne's hand. A variation in
the minor will later be important in the major in act III.
Later manipulations allude to the sound of the pan pipes,
and to the tangle of ivy and vine which entrap Ariadne in her
dream the night she is deserted. Ariadne 's own first theme
(see example 10) joins the polyphony of the prelude and foreshadows
the setting of 'Blessed art thou, 0 bride divine' at the end
of the opera. The prelude reaches a climax in three fortissimo
chords which thunder out from the whole orchestra. A Coda follows
in which the last four notes of the ground bass are harmonized
with chords (Figure b) which mark the moment when Dionysus guides
events. 'With thee, 0 Dionysus, thee the world's life, the world's
glory' (Figure c).
The remaining notes of the ground bass (Figure a) are compressed
in to a theme, here played by a solo violin, to be associated
with justice as divine and living in the pure and gentle heart.
(Figure a) Yet art thou, too divine.
(Figure d) Where, where is thy dwelling.
The music of the prelude quietens to almost a whisper and moves
into a minor key (F sharp minor), and a drum rolls ominously
as the curtain rises on the stage action.
On a royal ship outside the harbour of Knossus, King Minos (Bass)
waits with his daughters Ariadne (Soprano) and Phaedra (Contralto),
heralds, warriors and courtiers the arrival of the black ship
from Athens bearing the yearly sacrifice of six young men and
seven maidens for the Minotaur (the body of a man but with the
head of a bull). The song of the Athenian victims (Ex. 4) is
heard faintly bemoaning their fate accompanied by low tremulo
strings and low woodwind. The chorus in different forms (Athenians,
Cretans, Nereids,. Satyrs etc.) play almost as important a role
as the main characters in the opera, The chorus is not only
an important part of the action but comments on it in the style
of a chorus in an ancient Greek drama.
Their only hope is in the pain of death (Ex.5) which is followed
by a motive, played in the brass section which introduces Minos
and is associated with his lust for revenge.
Minos sings of the ship of doom bringing the Athenian victims,
the retribution for the killing of his son Adrogeos by Athens.
He is accompanied in the orchestra by Ex. 6. Tovey's technique
under much of the singing by the main characters is to keep
the dynamics of the orchestra lower than the singers or use
reduced orchestral forces. Tovey brings the orchestra to the
forefront between the singing to add an emotional or dramatic
point. He even uses sections of his orchestra as a continuo
in recitative passages which are reminiscent of an opera tradition
which precedes Wagner. But Tovey puts his drama on a similar
timescale as Wagner using recapitulation and the development
of his themes in order for them to grow into fixed relation
with dramatic elements, personal, psychological and accidental.
The Cretan Heralds depart for the Athenian ship as a trumpet
The chorus of the Athenian victims is heard, now much nearer.
(Ex. 8 & 9)
Ariadne is touched by the Athenian's song and begs Minos to
spare them. Example 10 has already been heard in the Prelude.
Minos angrily reminds Ariadne that the Athenians had murdered
Ariadne is aware of the fear on board the Athenian ship. The
tempo changes from Andante to Vivace, ma non troppo Presto and
Ariadne is accompanied in the bass by the captives theme 'Hope
only thy death's pain' from Ex. 5. She sees that one man, Theseus
(Tenor) is standing fearless and proud.
When the ships close, Theseus kills one of the Cretan guards,
then with a bloody sword in his hand he leads his fellow Athenians
to Minos. Theseus entry is announced by the whole orchestra
in a loud fanfare (Ex.12) which rapidly subsides into a low
unison tone in the clarinets and bassoons which is then accompanied
by low tremulo strings. Minos demands to know who he is. Theseus
replies that he is the son of Poseidon the God of the Sea (Ex.
13, 14 & 15).
In a chorus, the Athenian victims appeal for justice of which
EX. 16 is a central theme.
Minos calls upon his father Zeus to support his kinship with a
thunderbolt. Phaedra and Theseus gaze at one another, and Theseus
seems lost to his surroundings. The counterpoint in Example 17
underlines the growing attraction between them and the magic spell
that Phaedra will cast in order to make Theseus hers in act III.
There is a flash of thunder and lightning and Theseus drops his
sword. Minos takes a gold ring from. his finger and flings it
in the sea, saying that if Theseus is really the son of Poseidon
he must retreive it. Theseus leaps into the water. The Athenian
victims curse the gods with music which as the opera proceeds
will represent injustice (Ex. 18, 19 & 20).
Minos orders his ship's sails to be set for home and the victims
bound. The Athenians continue to pray that they, as comrades
of 'glad birds of the sea', may find peace and tranquility,
'lazily gliding over the blue calms of the sea' (Ex. 21)
Ariadne and Phaedra point excitedly towards the sea. Theseus
is disclosed dressed in a rich purple mantle, and crowned with
a wreath of gold entwined with dark roses (Ex. 22).
The Athenians are filled with wild excitement and a running
motif ~x. 23) is heard that will be used several times later
in the opera.
A chorus of Nereids, the marine nymphs of the Mediterranean,
escort Theseus and bid him farewell (Ex. 24).
Minos is unmoved by appeals from Ariadne and Phaedra. The ship
has reached the landing place. Minos points out the labyrinth
where death from the Minotaur awaits Theseus and the Athenians.
The music is derived from Ex. 25. As all leave the ship in procession
Ex. 5 thunders out from the orchestra followed by Ex. 6 as the
The Prelude (Andante).begins with a dirge-like theme (Ex. 26)
played in the flutes accompanied by the bassoons and joined
by tremulo muted strings, through which a drum beats a slow
This music leads to a passage related to Phaedra as a weaver
of spells (Ex. 27).
The curtain rises on a room in Minos palace. The strings introduce
the scene with a theme reminiscent of the first bar of example
3 (a). The dirge (Ex 26) with the second note as a D natural
is heard as Theseus paces restlessly, wearing his purple mantle
and crowned with a wreath. He sings of his love for Phaedra
and his purpose in coming to Knossus.
Ariadne and Phaedra enter.
A motif (Ex. 31), which is a transformation of example 10, suggests
Ariadne's dignity and embarrassment about her mission.
Ariadne tells Theseus that Minos does not wish to harm him because
he is the son of Poseidon, but his compatriots must be sacrificed
to the Minotaur. Theseus vigorously refuses the offer. The Athenians
cry out off stage and Ariadne goes to them briefly to comfort
them. Theseus gives his wreath to Phaedra. Ariadne returns and
she and her sister sing of their love for Theseus before leaving.
Theseus sleeps and wakes to find one of the sisters has returned.
He mistakes Ariadne initially for Phaedra. She offers help in
guiding him in the labyrinth, and will provide him with a sword.
The orchestra plays example 32.
The curtain falls.
There is now a superb orchestral interlude (allegro energico)
in sonata form using heroic themes. First there is Ex. 22 (in
E flat), followed by a considerable development of the running
figure Ex. 23. A fortissimo counterstatement leads, in classical
sonata style to the dominant. The very extensive group which
m sonata form would be called the 'second subject' begins (in
B flat) with a version of the Nereids chorus, Ex.24. As in the
Nereid's chorus the figure of divine justice (Ex. 3 (a)) is
present. It also accompanies a new theme (Ex. 33) which will
afterwards form (without that accompaniment) the music associated
with Theseus attraction to Ariadne.
A theme (Ex. 34) associated with the Nereids and the forces
of nature is introduced.
Other material includes the theme of Ariadne's innocence (Ex.
And evoking her distress and agitation (Ex. 36).
The curtain rises on the labyrinth with a distant trumpet call
(Ex. 7) in Andante maestoso tempo. The tempo changes to Allegro
and example 37 is heard in the cellos and basses.
Watched by Mimos, the Athenian captives, dressed in black, are
forced into the labyrinth. Minos reminds Theseus of his fate.
Theseus mocks him. Minos startled withdraws. The Athenians begin
to cry out in terror. Ariadne brings Theseus a sword and leads
the Athenians out by the secret way she entered.
An orchestral interlude opening with example 23 describes the
killing of the Minotaur
By Theseus. The body of the Minotaur is discovered by appalled
Cretan warriors while
Theseus makes his escape through the labyrinth accompanied by
Ex. 37, Ex. 22 and Ex. 32.
The scene changes to a cavern looking out to a background of
moonlit sea and shore. Phaedra, opening with a transformation
of example 19, calls on Aphrodite to cast a spell on the heart
of Theseus. The Atheneians are still fearful of what has happened
in the labyrinth. A triumphant Theseus orders them to embark
for home. Ariadne and Theseus sing of their love. Phaedra, who
has been hiding in a dark recess of the cavern, appears and
appeals to them not to leave her in Crete as she fears she will.
be slain by Minos when their escape is discovered. All three
set sail for Athens as Cretan trumpets sound the alarm from
within. the labyrinth.
The seashore of Naxos. Phaedra wears the wreath Theseus gave
her. She is occupied with casting a spell to make Theseus hers
accompanied by example 27. The orchestra opens passionately
in Allegretto tempo with a theme built from the first three
notes of example 28. A flickering fire in a small brazier is
illustrated by harp glissandos. Theseus enters, as if in a trance.
The Nereids try to waken Theseus from his trance (Ex.38)
But Phaedra's hold on Theseus is so complete that she leads
him off to the Athenian ship. Maenads (frenzied Bacchantes)
dance wildly on the stage (Ex. 39)
Their bacchanal is arrested by the voice of Dionysus (Bass)
calling them. They follow the voice. In the distance Theseus'
ship is glimpsed in the twilight. The Athenians sing as in example
21. There is the echo of the lament of the Nereids (Ex. 24)
and the curtain falls on a brief orchestral interlude (Poco
Allegreto) which forshadows later music (Ex. 40)
The curtain rises and the orchestra imitates the pan pipes played
by the Satyr Chromis (Tenor) (Ex. 41).
Ariadne appears looking for Theseus, the music weaves themes
Ex. 34 and 35. Her feet are entangled and she is frightened.
A serpent stings her (Ex. 42).
The sting fills Ariadne with a strange rapture (Ex. 43).
She catches sight of the departing Athenian ship and realizes
that she has been abandoned by Theseus. In despair, she prepares
to throw herself over the clifftop into the sea.
Dionysus calls to her. He claims her as a Maenad. The light
increases and satyrs and maenads fill the stage. Dionysus sings
and Ariadne is revealed in the dress of a Bacchante. Dionysus
takes Ariadne for his bride. The chorus sings a fugue to the
words 'Child of earth and starry heaven, for thee his wine Dionysus
poureth forth from life's true vine'.
The opera ends with transformations of Ariadne's music Ex. 35
and 42 then of Ex.2 and 1. The curtain falls on quiet music
the theme (Ex. 3) played on a solo violin. The final chord is
D major which is the same key in which the opera started.
Peter Shore 2010
Sir Donald Francis Tovey (18751940)
by Peter R. Shore
Tovey's 'The Bride of
Dionysus' A dream
come true - Peter R. Shore