Program 152

"More Famous Lovers"

MUSIC: Fauré: Pelléas et Mélisande Suite: Sicilienne performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Marriner [Argo 410 552-2, track 3] [under the following]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman. This is the second of two hours I’m dedicating to famous lovers. It will feature music from Tristan and Isolde by Wagner, Orpheus and Euridyce by Gluck, Pelléas and Mélisande by Fauré and Daphnis and Chloé by Ravel. I would have called these programs “Tragic Lovers,” since in almost every case the stories end badly. But the story of Daphnis and Chloé is the exception, which is probably why I once had a pair of parakeets with those names. And yet, as I remember, they were no exception to the “Tragic Lovers” theme, either, as their story ended fatally as well.

MUSIC: fades out

More about Daphnis and Chloé -- the Greek story and the music -- later. Let’s start now with Tristan and Isolde. Every time I hear Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod to this opera, I think that it could well be the sadest, most beautiful piece of orchestral music ever written. I, at least, can’t think of anything more beautiful. It is based on a tragic medieval love story that took place during the reign of King Arthur.

Isolde was the daughter of the King of Ireland. She was to be married to King Mark of Cornwall. King Mark sent his nephew, Tristan, to Ireland to escort Isolde to Cornwall.

Before leaving Ireland, Isolde's mother gave a love potion to Isolde's handmaiden with strict instructions to keep it safe until they reached Cornwall. It was then to be given to Isolde on her wedding night. Sometime during the voyage, Isolde and Tristan drank the potion by accident and fell in love forever.

Isolde did marry King Mark, but could not help loving Tristan. The love affair continued after the marriage. When King Mark finally learned of the affair, he forgave Isolde, but Tristan was banned from Cornwall. Tristan moved to King Arthur's court and later went to Brittany. There he met Iseult of Brittany. He was attracted to her because of the similarity of her name to that of his true love. He married her, but did not consummate the marriage because of his love for the "true" Isolde.

After falling ill, he sent for Isolde in hopes that she would be able to cure him. If she agreed to come, the returning ship's sails would be white. The sails would be black if she did not agree.

Iseult, seeing the white sails, lied to Tristan and told him that the sails were black. He died of grief before Isolde could reach him. Isolde died soon after of a broken heart. Iseult regretted her actions after she saw the love that the two had for each other, but, of course, it was too late.

Wagner wrote both the text and the music for his work, which premiered in Munich in 1865. Let’s listen to the Prelude and Liebestod now as performed by the Oregon Symphony conducted by James DePreist on a compact disc from Delos Records, appropriately called “Tragic Lovers.”

MUSIC: Wagner: “Prelude and Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde performed by the Oregon Symphony conducted by James DePreist [Delos DE 3369, track 1]

The Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. The Oregon Symphony was conducted by James DePreist.

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice isn’t any happier than that of Tristan and Isolde. Orpheus and Eurydice were happily married, according to ancient Greek legend. While fleeing from the son of Apollo, Eurydice ran into a nest of snakes and was bitten fatally on her heel.

Orpheus was devastated by the death of his wife and played such sad songs and sang so mournfully that all the gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus traveled to the underworld and his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone. They agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth, but there was one string attached: he had to walk in front of her and not look back until they had both reached the upper world.

Unfortunately, Orpheus forgot that they both needed to be in the upper world and he turned to look at Eurydice as soon as he arrived. She vanished for a second time -- this time forever.

In this Deutsche Grammophon compact disc recording of the famous “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice, Herbert Von Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic.

MUSIC: Gluck: “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Orpheus and Eurydice performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan [DGG 413 309-2, track 7]

The “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice. Herbert Von Karajan led the Berlin Philharmonic.

You are listening to “More Famous Lovers” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide to tragic love stories, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in total timing of program]

Next we’re going to hear three of the four movements from Gabriel Fauré’s suite Pelléas et Mélisande, one more love story with a tragic ending. In brief, here’s what happens in this medieval tale:

Golaud discovers Mélisande by a stream in the woods. She has lost her crown in the water, but does not wish to retrieve it. She marries Golaud, but that doesn’t stop her from falling in love with Pelléas. The two lovers meet by a fountain, where Mélisande loses her wedding ring. Golaud grows suspicious and assigns someone to spy on them. The spy discovers them caressing, whereupon he kills Pelléas and wounds Mélisande. She later dies after giving birth to an abnormally small girl.

In this Argo compact disc recording, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields is led by Neville Marriner.

MUSIC: Fauré: Pelléas et Mélisande Suite: Prélude, Andantino quasi Allegretto, and Sicilienne performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Marriner [Argo 410 552-2, tracks 1, 2 and 3]

Three of the four movements from Gabriel Fauré’s suite from Pelléas et Mélisande. The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields was directed by Neville Marriner.

Well, without dipping into the realm of Broadway musicals, I was able to find one couple of “Famous Lovers” whose story does NOT end tragically: that of Daphnis and Chloé. So, in my effort to give this hour of Compact Discoveries a happy ending, I next turn to this music by Maurice Ravel.

The story is from Ancient Greece. Daphnis and Chloé, two children found by shepherds, grow up together, nourishing a mutual love which neither suspects. Chloé is carried off by a pirate, but ultimately regains her family. Rivals trouble Daphnis' peace of mind; but the two lovers are recognized by their parents, and end up in a happy married life in the country.

In this RCA Victor BMG compact disc recording of the Suite No. 1 from Ravel’s ballet, the Vienna Philharmonic is conducted by Lorin Maazel.

MUSIC: Ravel: Suite No. 1 from Daphnis et Chloé performed by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Lorin Maazel [RCA/BMG 0902668600-2, track 1] [11:53]

The Suite No. 1 from Daphnis and Chloé by Maurice Ravel was performed by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Lorin Maazel.

MUSIC: Fauré: Pelléas et Mélisande Suite: Sicilienne performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Marriner [Argo 410 552-2, track 3] [under the following]

And that brings this hour of Compact Discoveries to an end. I hope you enjoyed it.

If you missed any of this hour or would like to hear it again, go to on the internet where you’ll find links to stream most Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. Look for program number 152. At the web site you’ll also find scripts for every Compact Discoveries program with complete information on every selection. There are some new features there as well, including my lists of recommended orchestral music, concert DVDs, and CDs and DVDs of classics for kids.

This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening and for supporting your local public radio station. It is that kind of support which makes the broadcast of this program possible in your community. Production of this program was made possible in part by a contribution from Marvin and Isabel Leibowitz.

MUSIC: Fade out

ANNOUNCER [Steve Jencks]: Compact Discoveries is a production of Compact Discoveries, Incorporated, a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization located at 36 Pickens Lane in Weaverville, North Carolina, and on the web at These programs are distributed to public radio stations nationwide through PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

Program Ends at 58:00
  ©2009 Compact Discoveries