Lancelot and Elaine op.25, symphonic poem
Edward MacDowell – Lancelot and Elaine, op. 25
(b. New York, NY, 18 December 1860 – d. New York, NY 12 January 1908)
Lancelot and Elaine is one of the twelve narrative poems, from the cycle Idylls of the King, by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892). He was the most important poet during the long reign of Queen Victoria; his verses have continued to inspire readers to the present day. The Idylls deals with the medieval legend of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, the Knights of the Round Table, their various adventures, heroic deeds and love affairs. The poems present an evocative and romantic picture of medieval England; in the Victorian era helping to arouse patriotism and pride in the populace.
In Lancelot and Elaine King Arthur had come into possession of nine beautiful diamonds. He awarded a diamond to the yearly tournament winner, who for eight years had been Sir Lancelot. After winning again, Lancelot wanted to give all nine diamonds to his secret love, Arthur’s wife, Queen Guinevere. The story, much like a modern soap opera, then becomes rather involved and convoluted. In short, Lancelot wins the tournament again, but this time disguised as another knight. On his way to the joust Lancelot encounters, the young and beautiful Elaine, who falls in love with him. He does not reciprocate her feelings, as he still loves Guinevere. Elaine is heartbroken and dies soon thereafter. Lancelot presents the nine diamonds to Guinevere but the Queen, in a fit of jealousy, throws the diamonds into the Thames River, just as Elaine‘s funeral barge passes below. It contains a note in which Elaine proclaims her love for Lancelot; acknowledges that he did not return her love and asks all to pray for her soul. The entire court is overcome by grief and Guinevere asks for Lancelot’s forgiveness. He now realizes that Elaine loved him more than Guinevere does and is left to ponder an uncertain future.
MacDowell loved to read about and idealize the events in Tennyson‘s poem (which contains 1418 lines of verse) but does not try to retell this entire poem in a musical way, instead using the basis of this tale to craft music to fit some of the emotional and dramatic situations. With an overarching structural sonata form, there is music that one might associate with the joust, the pastoral, love, reflection, grief, tragedy and death.
“MacDowell … is full of technical skill, has a strong sense of melodic contour and curve, a real control of thematic relationships, splendid abilities of orchestration and architecture…Lancelot und Elaine is notable for its extreme compression of narrative incident. It’s a rigorously descriptive tone poem, taking as its literary source Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. The highly detailed and reflective writing evokes the love, wanderings and drama implicit in the poem – ominous brass and drums, innocent and passionate declamation and a note struck of ultimate reflection and contemplation. Again the skeleton upon which MacDowell clothes the narrative is essentially sonata form – three themes, repetition of material and a coda.” Jonathan Woolf …
by Dr. Karl Hinterbichler, University of New Mexico, 2018
Read full preface > HERE
210 x 297 mm