Marsyas for oboe and harp

It all begins when Marsyas finds the aulos created by Athena. The fair goddess discarded the instrument in disgust when she realized playing it distorted her beautiful face. The instrument, though cursed, has been enchanted, and therefore still produces beautiful melodies. 

The over-confident satyr challenges Apollo, god of music, to see who can create the most pleasing songs. The winner of the competition will have his way with the loser. At first, the Muses judge the two play equally well. Apollo, concerned that he has met his match, tricks the satyr: he declares Marsyas cannot play exactly as he can. Marsyas takes up the challenge. Apollo turns his instrument upside down and sings while playing. The Muses proclaim Apollo the winner. The wrathful god flays Marsyas alive. The satyr’s blood and tears become the river which carry his name.

Marsyas 3

Composer note: Frankly, I’m surprised there are so few musical references to this myth. The story seems ready-made for a tone poem. A half-human being challenges a god to a duel, seems to better him, is then defeated through trickery, which leads to a gory demise. And of course the tale makes explicit reference to two tuneful instruments! It all seems perfect fodder for an expressive rendering.

marsyas 2 Apollo and Marsyas

Copyright ©2011 by Jody Rockmaker