Sir Arnold Bax Composer
Nympholept (Tone Poem)
Musicology:Originally a work for solo piano, Nympholept was completed in July 1912 and dedicated to Tobias Matthay, Bax's piano teacher at the Royal Academy. Describing the work as a "poem for piano," Bax inscribed at the top of the score the following program: "The tale telleth how one walking at Summer-dawn in haunted woods was beguiled by the nymphs, and, meshed in their shining and perilous dances was rapt away for ever into the sunlight life of the wild-wood." At about the same time he composed the music, Bax wrote a poem with the same title in which the narrator "chased all day the elfin bride" through a forest.
Nympholept (Tone Poem)Year: 1912-15
Genre: Tone / Symphonic Poem
Pr. Instrument: Orchestra
Both the diminutive program of Nympholept and its musical language are impressionistic, a characteristic of other tone poems of the time: Spring Fire (1913), Happy Forest (1914), and Garden of Fand (1913, orchestrated 1916). Both Happy Forest and Spring Fire are concerned with extramusical subject matter similar to that of Nympholept, and Bax's satisfaction with them may have prompted him to orchestrate the piano score of Nympholept in early 1915. That version he dedicated to Constant Lambert. Connections between Garden of Fand and Nympholept become clear when we hear one of the frenetic tunes from Nympholept expanded into the "Song of Immortal Love" in Garden of Fand.
Bax headed the orchestrated version of Nympholept with the lines, "Enter these enchanted woods / You who dare," explaining that the title, meaning "captured by nymphs," is the title of a poem of 1894 by Algernon Swinburne. The poem describes a "perilous pagan enchantment haunting the midsummer forest." Nympholept was never performed during Bax's life, receiving its premiere on May 31, 1961, at the Royal Academy of Music in London, given by the Strolling Players under Terence Lovett.
Bax chose a typically large orchestra when he decided to orchestrate Nympholept. The score includes three flutes (one doubling on piccolo), two oboes (one doubling on English horn), four clarinets, three bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, two harps, percussion, and strings.
Constant falling triplets at the center of the musical texture supporting a sustained melody and rapid flourishes mark the opening of Nympholept and remind one of the dawn sequence in Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé (1909 - 1912). Open fifths in the bass provide the requisite evocation of a pastoral scene, after which the soaring melody, including the rapid sextuplets, moves to the lower register. From this background grow numerous melodic ideas, performed by the woodwinds. As the tone poem progresses, we hear Bax flirting with the styles of Debussy, Dukas, and Bartók. Nympholept closes with a solo cello line against a background of swelling chords derived from the opening of the piece, presented with the colorful orchestration that is the mark of Bax.
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