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Peleus and Thetis

before 1740; A Masque
author of text

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


Boyce: Peleus and Thetis & other theatre music
CDA66935Archive Service


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)
Track 4 on CDA66935 [3'07] Archive Service
No 05. Air: To love and to languish (Peleus)
Track 5 on CDA66935 [2'57] Archive Service
No 06. Recitative: Accursed jealousy! (Thetis)
Track 6 on CDA66935 [0'34] Archive Service
No 07. Air and Chorus: But see, the mighty thunderer's here (Thetis)
Track 7 on CDA66935 [1'13] Archive Service
No 08. Recitative: Presumptuous slave, rival to Jove (Jupiter)
Track 8 on CDA66935 [0'37] Archive Service
No 09. Air: Armed with love, and Thetis by (Peleus)
Track 9 on CDA66935 [4'17] Archive Service
No 10. Trio: Bring me lightning! give me thunder! (Jupiter/Peleus/Thetis)
Track 10 on CDA66935 [1'22] Archive Service
No 11. Air: Thy love, still armed with fate (Thetis)
Track 11 on CDA66935 [2'13] Archive Service
No 12. Recitative: Son of Saturn, take advice (Prometheus)
Track 12 on CDA66935 [0'22] Archive Service
No 13. Air: The Prophecy (Prometheus)  Who e'er th' immortal maid compressing
Track 13 on CDA66935 [1'28] Archive Service
No 14. Recitative: Shall then the son of Saturn be undone? (Jupiter)
Track 14 on CDA66935 [0'46] Archive Service
No 15. Air: The fatal blessing I resign (Jupiter)
Track 15 on CDA66935 [2'24] Archive Service
No 16. Recitative: Heaven had been lost, had I been Jove (Peleus)
Track 16 on CDA66935 [0'14] Archive Service
No 17. Air: And thou, the stars' interpreter (Jupiter)
Track 17 on CDA66935 [1'44] Archive Service
No 18. Air: Fly, fly, fly to my arms (Peleus)
Track 18 on CDA66935 [1'48] Archive Service
No 19. Duet: But to gaze (Pelelus/Thetis)
Track 19 on CDA66935 [5'12] Archive Service
No 20. Chorus: When the storm is blown over
Track 20 on CDA66935 [1'44] Archive Service

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