Photo: Christian Steiner


 Thea Musgrave


(1981) for orchestra
Duration: 18'
Commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

World Premiere:  2 November 1981
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by the composer

U.S. Premiere:  2 June 1984
New York Philharmonic
Leonard Slatkin, conductor

Publisher:  Novello & Co Ltd

Critical Acclaim:

...takes its title from Schoenberg but little else. The style indeed is very much Musgrave's own, confident and clear in expressive focus, big and dramatic in forms. The piece begins decisively propelled by a string theme, which seems at once to bound, to soar and to yearn. This is music dissatisfied with itself, and the composer offers it plentiful contrasting variety, particularly in passages revealing woodwind soloists, it bolts towards its own catastrophe. As the title promises, a harsh chord stops it short.

This very straightforward piece, admirably conceived for a single hearing, was conducted by the composer and boldly projected by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
— Paul Griffiths, The Times (London)

Thea Musgrave's music always sounds like her own. Peripeteia is another in her fine series of "dramatic-abstract" instrumental works, in which musical events take on quite explicitly the quality of a play's argument and instruments sometimes behave like characters...Peripeteia is a solid, attractive, engaging work.
— Will Crutchfield, The New York Times

Composer's Note:

Peripeteia was inspired by the original title of the fourth of Schönberg's Five Orchestral Pieces, op 16. This word of Greek origin, is defined as "a turn right about, a sudden change especially that on which the plot of a tragedy hinges." I first heard this work as a student and even then it seemed that one day it would be exciting and challenging to explore this idea in a more extended way, though obviously the content, the musical motives would be very different to those of Schoenberg. The idea was to create a work starting in one mood, then to introduce some kind of "event" which would suddenly upset and change the course of the musical flow.

The opening bars are sunny and bright, and soon a violin melody emerges, often accompanied by the horns. A softer lyrical section follows with an important solo for a pair of clarinets, later joined by solo cello. A reprise of the opening material leads to another lyrical section, this time for solo oboe. The next reprise is interrupted by the "event," a single chord, at first soft and ominous, then building to an overwhelming climax. After this, though most of the themes from the first part reappear, they cannot re-establish themselves, and they are heard as fleeting, fragmented, dream-like memories. It's as if all that is left of reality is a memory.

Peripeteia is thus a kind of opera without words or specific plot.

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