Bantock: The Cyprian Goddess & other orchestral works
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Part 1: Maestoso e sforzato – Lentamente – Poco largamente – Con più moto
Part 2: Liberamente – Affrettando – Tranquillo molto sostenuto
Part 3: Animando – Con fuoco – Con molto agitato
Part 4: Lentamente – Lento sostenuto – Poco lentando – Allegretto grazioso – Con fuoco – Con anima
Part 5: Più moto, affrettando – Tranquillo, e molto sostenuto
Bantock’s love affair with languages led him to study not only Latin and Greek, but also Persian. The Pagan Symphony had taken its cue from the second book of Horace’s Odes, and the opening of Ode XIX concerning Bacchus. Aphrodite is, of course, the Goddess of Love, whom he had invoked so memorably before in the Sappho Songs for contralto and orchestra. Now in The Cyprian Goddess he prefaces the score with the two Latin verses of Ode XXX in the first book, as well as a photograph of the statue of the Venus de Milo from the Louvre.
O Venus regina Cnidi Paphique
Sperne dilectam Cypron et vocantis
Ture te multo Glycerae decoram
Transfer in aedem.
Fervidus tecum puer et solutis
Gratiae zonis properentque Nymphae
Et parum comis sine te Juventas
Venus, queen of Knidos and Paphos,
quit thy favoured Cyprus and come
to the fine temple of Glycera which
calls you with much incense.
Let the passionate child, the Graces
with their girdles untied, the nymphs,
Youth, all the less attractive without you,
and Mercury hasten with you.
The music plays continuously, but consists of a variety of contrasting sections, and the feeling of a story or succession of images is striking. Why Bantock was never commissioned to compose for the films when he writes so cinematographically is a mystery. Bantock gives us no detailed programme, but from time to time he writes a classical quotation (in English translation) above the score, thus indicating the major milestones, and effectively marking four movements, each of several sections. The first five minutes of the music can thus be regarded as an extended prelude, setting the scene, in which recurring motifs are introduced.
The first quotation (track 2) is from Theocritus: ‘Ay, but she too came, the sweetly smiling Cypris, craftily smiling she came, yet keeping her heavy anger’. Bantock marks the music liberamente and launches a long lyrical passage taken by violins in octaves; this rises to a climax, like waves breaking on a rock, and then falls quiet again. Now follows a quotation from the Smyrna Pastoral poet Bion: ‘Mild Goddess, in Cypris born—why art thou thus vexed with mortals and immortals?’ (track 3). Bantock’s marking is animando, and the texture of repeated quavers in the strings reminds us of his friend Sibelius. This is sea-music in the tradition of his earlier Hebridean Symphony and leads to a passage of repeated fanfaring trumpets reminiscent of the climax of that work. Eventually the storm subsides and quiet music leads to a violin solo launching the third section.
As the solo violin plays above a hushed accompaniment of muted strings (track 4) we have another quotation from Bion: ‘Great Cypris stood beside me while still I slumbered’. The tempo marking is lentamente; Bantock’s dream is of romance and the exotic as he soon presents a wide-spanning string tune and then contrasts it with oriental dances at first delicate, then much wilder. The opening cello and double-bass motif returns on clarinet and Bantock launches into glowing and triumphant orchestral love music and his fourth quotation, from Bion’s pupil Moschus: ‘His prize is the kiss of Cypris, but if thou bringest Love, not the bare kiss, O stranger, but yet more shalt thou win’ (track 5). The end is happy and affirmative, the material from the opening returns, no longer questioning but heroic and confident, and eventually with a quiet sunset epilogue Bantock’s vision fades from sight.
This may have been a strange work to have written at the turn of 1938/9, yet Bantock’s dream of Aphrodite and of a happier time is vivid and gripping, as Scheherazade-like he evokes an antique world. It is now almost a cliché to refer to the Freudian imagery of the sea, yet it is surely no accident that as the seventy-year-old composer’s thoughts are of love and his earlier life, he finds his most compelling metaphor in thrilling sea music. As his liner crosses the Pacific the final sunset glow is for the moment without any hint of the war and the horrors so soon to come.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 1995