This week, the Ether Game Brain Trust paid homage to these beautiful nature spirits of folklore and mythology with a show called “Nothing but Nymphs”. Below you can descend into our musical cave for songs, symphonic poems and solos featuring wood nymphs, water nymphs, goblins and sylphs.
Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) Ma Vlast: La Moldau: Clair de Lune: Dance of the Water Nymphs It’s not Beethoven’s Ninth, but Bedrich Smetana, the father of Czech music, composed the symphonic cycle “Ma Vlast” (or “My Homeland”) largely while he was completely deaf. By the 1860s Smetana was back in Prague, just as Czech (formerly Bohemian) nationalist fervor had awakened. The Moldau, written in honor of the Vltava River in Bohemia (Moldau in German), was premiered in 1875 and is the second of the six symphonic poems that make up Ma Vlast, and the most widely performed. The music transports us from the river to a hunt in the forest, a peasant wedding, and in the excerpt we have just heard, water nymphs dance in the moonlight. Nymphs are a common feature of Czech folklore and appear in works by other well-known Bohemian composers; chief among them Dvorak, who is an opera water nymph Rusalka has been appearing in Czech and Russian folklore for hundreds of years.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) ACIS AND GALATEA, HWV 49a: Sinfonia The myth of Acis and Galatea comes from Ovid Metamorphosis, and tells the story of the love between the sea nymph Galatea and the human shepherd Acis. The only problem is the Cyclops Polyphemus – who also made an appearance as a troublemaker in Homer Odyssey. Polyphemus too loves Galatea – in Handel’s retelling of the story, Polyphemus declares his love for Galatea, comparing his complexion to the color of a cherry. His cherry-colored love remains out of reach, and later in a jealous rage, Polyphemus murders the shepherd with a rock. Galatea then transforms the blood of her murdered lover in the waters of the Acis river in Sicily. Romantic, right? The story was adapted into a booklet written by John Gay (who also wrote The Beggar’s Opera) and later set to music by Handel, becoming Handel’s first work in English.
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)Das Rheingold: Scene 1. :Das Rheingold is the opera of the first evening of Wagner’s cycle of four operas The Ring of the Niebelungs [The Ring of the Niebelungs]. In the first act, the dwarf Alberich is mocked by the wayward Rhinemaidens, Nymphs who live in the Rhine, and it should come as no surprise that Wagner gave these Nymphs such a definite place to dwell. Throughout mythology, nymphs have been associated with specific and endearing places. The Greeks named groups of nymphs for many of their major rivers, such as the Thessalids, who lived in the Peneus River in Thessaly. It became even more specific: the Sithnids were nymphs believed to inhabit a local fountain in the Greek city of Megara. Back in the Rhine, Alberich discovers the gold the Rhine maidens are guarding, and is told that the gold can be made into a ring that will give the wearer unlimited power, but only one who renounces love can shape the ring. Hungry for wealth and power, Albrich snatches gold from the Rhinemaidens and renounces love.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Syrinx It is not uncommon to hear a piece for solo flute these days, but before Debussy wrote Syrinx in 1913, the most important piece of music for solo flute had been published 150 years earlier by CPE Bach. Syrinx marked a turning point in the development of solo wind music, and its composition would not have been possible without the invention of the fully chromatic metallic flute developed by Theobald Boehm in 1847. Debussy originally wrote the piece without barlines , giving the performer ample room for expression. This, combined with the new techniques made possible by the Boehm system, showed the audience the full emotional potential of the unaccompanied flute and brought to life the ancient subject matter that inspired the piece. Debussy named the work for the beautiful nymph Syrinx, who is accidentally killed by Pan in a tragic love story.
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) The Wood Nymph op. 15 The Finnish musical world was shaken in 1996 when musicologist Kari Kilpeläinen announced that he had rediscovered a piece by Finland’s national composer. Sibelius Orchestral Ballad,The wood nymph was only performed four times during the composer’s lifetime, was never published, and ended up skimming over the Archives of the University of Helsinki, where Sibelius left his juvenalia, sketches and manuscripts that he did not want to see the light of day. It is unclear whether Sibelius intended to scrap performances of this work, as an abridged version continued to be staged as a melodrama for chamber ensemble and narrator. The work depicts the Swedish folk tale of Bjorn, a wanderer who is seduced by a type of wood nymph called Skogsrå. It’s a kind of Swedish version of the Odysee Mermaid, though they appear as beautiful women walking alone in the woods rather than at sea. The Skogsrå was said to steal the soul of any man who followed it into the woods, never to be seen again. .
Micha Levitzki (1898-1941) The enchanted nymph : Due to his demanding performance schedule as a concert pianist, as well as his untimely death from a heart attack at age 42, Levitzki’s oeuvre of original compositions is relatively small. However small they may be, we know that Levitzki’s works were extremely popular with the public, who asked him to perform certain pieces even if they were not scheduled for a recital. Levitzki had a natural predilection for swinging rhythms, so it’s no surprise that the Viennese Waltz was his favorite genre for composing and improvising. The enchanted nymph is one of his most programmatic works. The contrast between the shimmering, lyrical opening theme that moves into the waltzing mid-section and then returns dramatically with greater emotional intensity sounds more like a miniature ballad than a grand waltz.
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) MADRIGALI AMOROSI: ‘Lament of the ninfa Claudio Monteverdi composed his eighth book of madrigals in 1638. Aged seventy-one at the time, Monteverdi was to regard this collection as the pinnacle of his work with the madrigal, and it would come to represent the last experimental phase of the genre. before the madrigal would turn into an operatic aria. The collection is known as Madrigals of War and Love, and contains two madrigal sections for one to six voices. Monteverdi set his music to a poem by Italian poet Ottavio Rinuccini, who later collaborated with Jacopo Peri on Daphne, one of the first operas. In Lament of the ninfa, Rinuccini presents a nymph who despairs of a lost lover, possibly a man, who has left her for another woman. She rages against the beauty of this other woman, singing that “sealed in my womb, O Love, lives an even more just fidelity”. Rinuccini ends the lament with a timeless observation: “And so it is in the heart of every lover. Burns, side by side, the flame and the ice of love. ”
Felix Godefroid (1818-1897) The Dance of Sylphs When Sebastian Erard developed the double-action mechanism in 1810 that allowed pedal harps to play seamlessly in all keys, it took a generation of virtuoso harpists to expand and interpret the repertoire that was suddenly possible on the harp. One of these notable composers and musicians was Belgian harpist Felix Godefroid. After dropping out of the Paris Conservatoire, which was still used to using the old, single-motion pedal harp, he became a student of Elias Parish-Alvars, otherwise known as “The Listz of the Harp”, who defended the modernized instrument. Godefroid wrote around three hundred works for harp, many of them concert masterpieces with flashy, flowery and decorative effects requiring an advanced level of technical dexterity. His The Dance of the Sylphs uses a rapid transposition of the melody to the highest registers of the harp to evoke the floating, shimmering dance of the wood sprites.
Suzanne Vega (born in 1959) Calypso In Homer’s Great Ancient Greek Epic The Odyssey, Odysseus is shipwrecked while returning from the Trojan War. He is saved from drowning by a sea nymph named Calypso, who brings him to her island and enchants him with song as she weaves on her loom with a golden shuttle. The nymph is determined that Odysseus will live with her as her lover forever. However, the gods Zeus and Athena have other plans for the legendary hero and order Calypso to free Odysseus. Singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega wrote Calypso in 1978, where, adopting a more sympathetic look at character, she sings from a nymph’s perspective of loneliness and lost love.