Electra Mourns

Brian Elias (1948)

Electra Mourns 2011

cor anglais - strings (86442 min)
Duration 
20
Solist 
Text Author 
Language 
Commissioner 
Publisher 

The context of the speech I have set from ‘Electra’, a 5th Century BC play by the great dramatist Sophocles is:

A messenger gives Electra and her mother, Clytemnestra, a fabricated account of her brother, Orestes’ heroic death in a chariot race and his funeral. (He had been sent away as a young child by Electra to protect his life after the murder of their father Agamemnon by her mother and her then lover, later husband, Aegisthus.)

But Orestes is not dead; he returns to his home in disguise with his friend Pylades, wanting to test Electra’s loyalty to him. He gives her an urn which he says contains her brother’s ashes. Electra mourns before Orestes while cradling the urn.

Sophocles concentrates on Electra’s character and her motives. He portrays her as someone relentless and insatiable in her grief and in her desire for revenge for the murder of her father by her mother. Sophocles makes us question Electra’s morality and her sense of judgement; she is driven to near madness by her obsessive grieving and wish for revenge.

What sort of daughter would want to murder her mother and stepfather so savagely? What sort of sister would seek to propel her brother into this blood-libel? What sort of person seeks this as her only means of catharsis? Sophocles reminds us that despite the violence of her anger, Electra can still feel love and tenderness towards her brother but that such love may only be alive because she sees him as her sole hope of help in her quest for vengeance.

The work, a scena set in the original ancient Greek, was completed in January 2011. It is scored for Mezzo Soprano, solo Cor Anglais and String Orchestra, and lasts approximately 17 minutes. I am immensely grateful to Francesca Spiegel for her invaluable help with the language and its meaning.

Brian Elias

Comments 

Winner of the British Composer Award 2013 Vocal Category. The judges' citation:

This is a truly marvellous work: mesmerising and breathtaking.

From the opening notes, it sustains a terrific level of intensity and gets inside one of the great dramas of Western culture. Both vocal and instrumental writing is full of skill, artistry, maturity and creative wisdom. The pairing of voice and cor anglais has an exquisite beauty.

Performances 
11.8.12 BBC Proms, Cadogan Hall, London: Nicholas Daniel, cor anglais/Susan Bickley, mezzo soprano/Britten Sinfonia/Clark Rundell
8
Violin
6
Violin II
4
Viola
4
Cello
2
Double bass
(Esc)