Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex: The Handelian Ring

by Barry Drogin

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Oedipus Rex is a rather large work: 50 minutes in duration, a full orchestra, soloists, male chorus, set and costumes. It is a multi-media experience: music, action, numerous philosophies inherent in the choices of Latin, motionless singers and stylistic references. How does one approach such a multifarious work?

I have found it impossible to make an over-all summary of Oedipus, an all-inclusive statement that explains the pieceís reason for being --- it eludes the grasp of definition, contradicting itself twice. But this does not mean that it is impossible to know Oedipus, or to attempt small theories. This paper, then, is a conglomeration of different perspectives; Oedipus viewed from varying angles.

"Historical Perspectives" places Oedipus in the context of ISís life and music before and after its composition. It attempts to explain why consideration of Oedipus is important in understanding ISís varied output.

"A Brief History" is a depository for the trivia surrounding Oedipus Rexís conception, realization and first performance.

"Analysis of the Score" starts with a detailed scene-by-scene study of the plot and musical devices employed in Oedipus. The sub-heading "Form and Content" introduces a summary of these devices, and "A Short Analysis" is just that: a short in-depth analysis of ten measures from the score.

"Notes and Quotes" is the Grand Finale. Criticsí opinions openly clash, and I indulge in some subjective guessing of my own. Who is right? No one.

P.S. For those entirely ignorant of the existence of Oedipus until encountering this paper, here are some basic facts: Oedipus Rex is an opera-oratorio in two acts based on the play by Sophocles. It was composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1927, the text written by Jean Cocteau and then translated. into Latin by Jean Danielou. The plot is the famous story of the egotistica1 King Oedipus, who discovers that he has killed his father and married his mother. This immoral situation is taken to be the cause of the plague that has crippled the city of Thebes, so Oedipus is driven away at the end.

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First Posted: October 4, 2004/Last Updated: August 4, 2007