Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012)

Persephone dream (1972)

tone poem

  • General information
    • Composition date: 1972
    • Duration: 16 mn
    • Publisher: Novello, Borough Green
    • Commission: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
    • Dedication: à Rosaleen
Detailed formation
  • piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes (also 1 English horn), 2 clarinets (also 1 bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, 4 percussionists, vibraphone, xylophone, 2 harp, celesta, 14 violins, 12 second violins, 10 violas, 8 cellos, 6 double basses [nombre de cordes minimun]

Premiere information

  • Date: 18 January 1973


    le Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, direction : Sir Charles Groves.

Program note

Persephone, the beautiful daughter of Demeter, was gathering flowers in a meadow when suddenly the earth opened and Hades carried her off into the Underworld, where she reigned as Queen of Death. Demeter searched the earth for her, refusing fertility to the crops in her anger. When she finally found her daughter, the joyful reunion was enhanced by the earth's blossoming forth with life and fecundity again, after the long winter of deprivation. Persephone, because she accepted a pomegranate seed from Hades, was not permitted to be completely released, but had to alternate her existence between darkness and light. This story was the subject of the strange Eleusinian Mysteries, annual and quinquennial Greek festivals of great religious importance whose secrets were so well kept that we can still only guess at them.

Persephone Dream is built on the opening four sounds of the work; everything which follows is a multiplication, in order, of one of those sounds or part of one of those sounds. The intervals present in the melodic lines systematically 'plug' the relevant intervals, just as those making up the harmony, or musical space, do. So what is achieved in a few seconds at the opening is also the form, vastly multiplied, of the whole work, audible in the slow tread of the harmony and in the intervallic obsessions of the melody. In the same way that intervals are repeated in the first sounds, so we get recapitulations of sections in the work as a whole; and the succession of instrumentation as a whole. From the moment when the final climax bursts out to the end, and also in certain strata of the texture throughout, only the opening material in its intact, unfragmented form is used, as a kind of reference to which the fragments can be related. All in all, one might think of it as an organic structure with a spinal curve out of which proliferate different sorts of cell.

Jonathan Harvey, éditions Chester Novello.