Symphony 2: The Odyssey
“Sing in me muses. Tell them the story of that man, who wandered for years”
These are the first lines of Homer’s most famous epos, the Odyssey, and the first lyrics of the choir in Alex Poelman’s second symphony. This symphony for concert band and choir consists of three movements, each fifteen minutes long. It depicts famous passages from Odysseus’ adventures.
Movement I: Telemachos
After the war of Troy, Odysseus was not favored by all gods. He got banished on an island with the beautiful nymph Kalypso. He longed for his family and homeland Ithaka. Kalypso did not want him to leave, neither did the gods. Athena, who had always supported Odysseus, begged her father and king of gods Zeus to let him go. Meanwhile on Ithaka the wife of Odysseus, Penelopea, had her home full of suitors. Suitors, all believing Odysseus was dead, wanted Penelopea as their wife. Penelopea played a trick on the suitors: she promised to marry one of them when she finished weaving a large cloth. Each night when all the suitors were asleep, she unpicked the cloth to make little progress. Telemachos, son of Odysseus, got visited by Athena. She told him Odysseus was still alive and urged him to find a ship to start looking for his father. While Telemachos started his search, Odysseus was set free by the gods. Kalypso, obeying the gods, helped him to build a raft to cross the ocean. With his homeland in sight large waves knocked him of his vessel. Poseidon, god of the oceans, had sighted him and was determined to not let Odysseus reach Ithaka. Odysseus washed ashore half-drowned and fell asleep.
Movement II: Odysseus, the Storyteller
Odysseus was found by princess Nausicaa of the Phaeacians. She took him to her father, the king of the Phaeacians. He provided shelter and food, not knowing the broken man was no other than the war hero Odysseus. Late in the evening he asked Odysseus to reveal his identity and tell the story of how he ended up at the land of the Phaeacians. Odysseus told about his encounter with the Cyclops: a one-eyed giant. How he and his friends were caught in his cave and managed to set themselves free. He also told about the Sirens, mermaid like creates whose singing lured sailors to their doom. At the end of the night, the king ordered his sailors to bring Odysseus to his homeland. Vast asleep the master of Ithaka was laid down on his own beach. Athena cast a spell to cover Odysseus in mist, so he could rest in safety.
Movement III: Return to Ithaka
Waking up covered in mist Odysseus did not know where he was. He thought he had been tricked by the Phaeacians. But when Athena dispelled the mist he recognized his own beach and palm trees. Athena appeared and informed Odysseus about the suitors taking over his house and belongings. She transformed Odysseus into a beggar, as he should not be recognized by the men who betrayed him. Penelopea came up with another trick: “The man that strings this bow and shoots an arrow straight through the sockets of twelve axe heads is the one I will marry.” Each suitor tried to string the bow, none of them succeeded. Then the beggar gave it a try. He easily strung the bow and fired an arrow right through the axe head sockets. With help of Telemachos and Athena, he slaughtered all the suitors and hung all the servants that had betrayed him during his absence. Penelopea could not believe that this man was her long gone husband. She ordered a servant to move Odysseus’ bed to the hall. Odysseus responded: “Who has the strength to move my bed? I carved it from living wood and build the room around it!”. Penelopea rushed into his arms, knowing the king of Ithaka had returned.
Composed in: 2012
Instrumentation: Wind Orchestra and Choir (SATB)