No 1: Largo
No 2: Con impeto
No 3: Con molta espressione di dolore
The three symphonic preludes L’Edipo Re di Sofocle are essentially mood pictures rather than detailed programmatic representations of the dramatic narrative. The opening Prelude, marked Largo, maintains a general air of the tragic foreboding felt by the populace of Thebes, through very simple but enormously effective musical means. Four sombre low chords begin, in F sharp, before a deep pedal B is planted in the bass. Over this a wonderfully expressive theme is heard in octaves, beginning with repeated notes. This is heard again on cellos and double basses, before a sudden change to E flat major heralds a new, more portentous theme on first horn, a theme associated with the Sphinx. Now combined with elements of the first theme, the violins announce a third idea, pianissimo, molto espressivo, which grows in intensity until yet another sudden change heralds the recapitulation of the first two themes, in reverse order. The solo horn theme is now given out in F sharp, by both horns and bassoons in unison against the full orchestra; suddenly the image fades, and the first theme returns in B minor, ending this imaginative and strikingly beautiful early piece in quiet solemnity.
The second Prelude, Con impeto, is a character study of Oedipus, at first wrestling with the difficulties of solving the enigma of the Sphinx—whose theme from the first Prelude is heard again in this movement—and then, in a long, expressive oboe solo, contemplating the puzzle, before the exciting Presto coda heralds that the answer is glimpsed.
The final Prelude, in C minor, Con molta espressione di dolore, is more programmatically related to the tragedy. Oepidus, having learned of his patricide and incestuous marriage to his mother, and whose children have disowned him, prepares to leave Thebes for the last time. Antigone, having taken pity on Oedipus, will accompany him; her affection offers the blinded king the only ray of hope. The main theme of the piece is laden with tragic feeling and, as the final Prelude progresses, the major mode is gradually glimpsed, to end the work, with a gently questioning added sixth, in a mood of calm from which almost all energy has been drained.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1999