Reference Entry

Oedipus

Andrew Stiller

in Oxford Music Online

Published in print December 1992 |
Published online January 2002 | e-ISBN: 9781561592630 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.O006316

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Music-dance drama in one act by Harry Partch to his own libretto after Sophocles; Oakland, California, Mills College, 14 March 1952 (revised version, Shell Beach, Sausalito, California, 11 September 1954).

Partch originally used Sophocles’ King Oedipus, a Version for the Modern Stage, by W. B. Yeats, for his libretto, and with this text the work was first heard as King Oedipus. Partch had already prepared a musical outline by 1934, and in that year secured the poet’s approval in Dublin. The project could not be realized until 1951, however, and after the 1952 performances he found that the Yeats estate would not permit a recording; accordingly, he prepared a new libretto from non-copyright sources, modernizing and Americanizing the language, and revised the score. This version was first performed in 1954. In 1967 Partch further revised the score, modifying the instrumentation.

The action takes place before the palace of King Oedipus (bass) at Thebes. His subjects beg his assistance in overcoming the plagues that have devastated the city, which the oracle of Apollo has declared will subside only when the murderer of Laius, the preceding king, is driven out. The blind prophet Tiresias (bass), with great reluctance, names Oedipus as the murderer and hints that the king is guilty of incest. Oedipus accuses Tiresias of having been suborned to falsehood by Creon, the king’s brother-in-law. Creon and Oedipus quarrel and the king’s wife Jocasta (low soprano), Laius’s widow, tries to intercede. She reveals that an oracle predicted that Laius would be killed by his own son, but the prediction had been forestalled by exposing the infant to the elements; Laius was in fact murdered by strangers at a place where three roads met. Oedipus, who had once killed a man at such an intersection, now begins to suspect part of the truth. After the appearance of an aged Messenger from Corinth and the Herdsman (same actor as Tiresias), who had been sent out to expose Laius’s baby son, the truth is plain. The chorus comments in shocked tones and a voice declares that Jocasta has killed herself. The chorus is reduced to wordless syllables of horror. Oedipus re-enters, having blinded himself, and declares his misery antiphonally with the chorus. Wordlessly, Creon assists him on his way out of the city, and the chorus declares that no life can be called fortunate until it is complete....

Reference Entry.  469 words. 

Subjects: Opera ; Musical Scores, Lyrics, and Libretti

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