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Orpheus' lament & Dance of the blessed spirits

from Orfeo ed Euridice

Decades ago I got to know the touching transcription of Gluck’s Orpheus’ lament when a friend gave me Wilhelm Kempff’s CD of Bach transcriptions (on which the piece is included, and which was an inspiration for me when I recorded my own album of Bach Arrangements). Both the father and grandfather of Kempff (1895-1991) were organists, and Wilhelm grew up playing the organ, improvising, and then transcribing many works for piano, as Busoni (whose art Kempff admired greatly) had done before him. He wanted to present audiences with works that deserved to be better known, and this was one way of doing it. He was also a master of legato playing, and a great singer at the keyboard.

That is amply demonstrated in his transcription of the ballet music that Gluck added to his opera Orfeo ed Euridice in 1744 when it was first presented in Paris. The Dance of the blessed spirits opens Act II and is scored for solo flute and strings. I’ve included it as a love song because the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is of course one of the great love stories of all time. Unlike the original, which begins with the F major minuet-like section, Kempff jumps right in with the D minor flute solo (a true lament), before making the transition to F major for the final page. Another transcription of this lament, by Sgambati (played perhaps more frequently than Kempff’s), leaves out the F major section altogether, which I feel is a shame as it’s so beautiful and calming. Gluck always searched for ‘a beautiful simplicity’, and here he certainly found it. The ballet in the opera is staged in the Elysian Fields—the final resting place of pure souls.

from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2021


Love songs
CDA68341RECORD OF THE MONTH To be issued soon Available Friday 2 July 2021


Track 11 on CDA68341 [4'40] RECORD OF THE MONTH To be issued soon Available Friday 2 July 2021

Track-specific metadata for CDA68341 track 11

Recording date
29 November 2020
Recording venue
Kulturstiftung Marienmünster, Germany
Recording producer
Ludger Böckenhoff
Recording engineer
Ludger Böckenhoff
Hyperion usage
  1. Love songs (CDA68341)
    Disc 1 Track 11
    Release date: 2 July 2021
    RECORD OF THE MONTH To be issued soon Available Friday 2 July 2021
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