Hyperion Records

<Medea (using Seneca’s Latin version of the text) for male chorus and ensemble, was commissioned for the Théâtre de France. It shares the instrumental freedom which Xenakis unleashed in what has become a classic modern masterpiece, Nomos Alpha for cello. The youthful Xenakis had often wondered how the music of ancient Greek theatre might have sounded, how the actors, chorus and musicians might have chanted the text and played the aulos (wind instrument) and in this work he provided his solution. He treated the instruments as voices and the voices as instruments to create an implacable work, extending the language phonetically with whispers and hisses, repeated phrases and even banging stones. The atmosphere is archaic, with a setting which is both raucous and primitive. The composer writes of the work:

It was Jean-Louis Barrault in 1967 who asked me to write the music for Medea of Seneca for Maria Casares’ Medea in a stage version of Jorge Lavelli with the Ensemble of Musique Vivante under the direction of Diego Masson for the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris.
I hesitated because I knew Seneca as a pseudo-philosopher, an imperial courtier, and above all a Roman who sought, like all the Romans of that period, to emulate the ancient Greek masterpieces.
But in reading the Latin text written in the first century ad I was seduced by its violent sonority, its barbarity, and so I agreed. I used a chanted male chorus, to preserve the sonority of the Latin particularly in verses 301 to 379. These verses relate the story of the maritime journey of the Argonauts, hence the stones—symbol of the virgin sea [‘stones’ is a reference to the rocks that guarded the entrance to the Euxine Sea by clashing against each other when anything passed between them]. This, however, is only a very small part of the Medea of Seneca which consists of a total of 1,027 verses.

from notes by Nouritza Matossian © 1998

Track-specific metadata
Details for CDA66980 track 5
Recording date
25 July 1997
Recording venue
St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Gary Cole
Recording engineer
Gary Cole
Hyperion usage
  1. Xenakis: Choral Music (CDA66980)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: February 1998
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