Hyperion Records

Peleus and Thetis
composer
before 1740; A Masque
author of text

Recordings
'Boyce: Peleus and Thetis & other theatre music' (CDA66935)
Boyce: Peleus and Thetis & other theatre music
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Details
No 01. Overture: Allegro
No 02. Overture: Largo
No 03. Overture: Gavot Larghetto Gavot
No 04. Recitative: Condemned on Caucasus to lie (Peleus/Prometheus/Thetis)
No 05. Air: To love and to languish (Peleus)
No 06. Recitative: Accursed jealousy! (Thetis)
No 07. Air and Chorus: But see, the mighty thunderer's here (Thetis)
No 08. Recitative: Presumptuous slave, rival to Jove (Jupiter)
No 09. Air: Armed with love, and Thetis by (Peleus)
No 10. Trio: Bring me lightning! give me thunder! (Jupiter/Peleus/Thetis)
No 11. Air: Thy love, still armed with fate (Thetis)
No 12. Recitative: Son of Saturn, take advice (Prometheus)
No 13. Air: The Prophecy (Prometheus)  Who e'er th' immortal maid compressing
No 14. Recitative: Shall then the son of Saturn be undone? (Jupiter)
No 15. Air: The fatal blessing I resign (Jupiter)
No 16. Recitative: Heaven had been lost, had I been Jove (Peleus)
No 17. Air: And thou, the stars' interpreter (Jupiter)
No 18. Air: Fly, fly, fly to my arms (Peleus)
No 19. Duet: But to gaze (Pelelus/Thetis)
No 20. Chorus: When the storm is blown over

Peleus and Thetis
We know nothing about the circumstances in which Peleus and Thetis was composed. There is no sign that it was ever given a stage production in the eighteenth century, and it may have been performed in concert form by the London music club The Sons of Apollo in the late 1730s. The autograph score and parts in the Bodleian Library seem to date from a later revival, such as the one given at the Boyce festival in Cambridge in 1749. The text was drawn from Lord Lansdowne’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, first performed in 1701 with music by John Eccles. Boyce probably chose it as a response to Arne’s setting of Milton’s masque Comus (1738), which set a fashion for the revival of old texts. In the same spirit, Handel turned to Milton’s L’Allegro ed il Penseroso in 1740.

The masque is set on the summit of Mount Caucasus, where Prometheus has been chained for aeons for the crime of stealing fire from the gods. His torment (a vulture continually pecks at his liver) has given him the gift of prophecy, and so Peleus comes to consult him about his forbidden love for the nymph Thetis, who is also being pursued by Jupiter. As the late Roger Fiske pointed out, this Wagnerian situation drew from Boyce some surprisingly dramatic music, with an unusual number of ensembles. In particular there is a fine ‘trembling’ chorus that accompanies Jupiter’s descent from the heavens, surely inspired by the Frost music in Purcell’s King Arthur, and a remarkable trio in which he rages against Peleus and Thetis, similarly inspired by the trio for Acis, Galatea and Polyphemus in Handel’s Acis and Galatea. But there are many places where the young Boyce had already developed a mature individual voice, such as Peleus’s forward-looking and beautifully scored aria of defiance against Jupiter, ‘Armed with love, and Thetis by’, or Jupiter’s aria ‘The fatal blessing I resign’, which combines an almost Bach-like contrapuntal complexity with heartfelt pathos.

from notes by Peter Holman 1997

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