Tuesday, 2 June 2015


“When music fails to agree to the ear, to soothe the ear and the heart and the senses, then it has missed the point.” - Maria Callas

Orpheus in Greek mythology was a legendary hero who had god-like musical skills. He was the son of a Muse (probably Calliope, the patron of epic poetry) and Oeagrus, a king of Thrace (or even the god Apollo). According to some legends, Apollo gave Orpheus his first lyre. Orpheus’ singing and playing were so beautiful that animals and even trees and rocks moved about him in dance.

Orpheus joined the expedition of Jason and the Argonauts, saving them from the music of the Sirens by playing his own, more powerful music. On his return, he married the nymph Eurydice, who soon after was killed by a snakebite. Overcome with grief, Orpheus went to the land of the dead to attempt to bring Eurydice back to life.

With his singing and playing he charmed the ferryman of the dead, Charon, and the three-headed watchdog of the underworld, Cerberus. Orpheus’ music and grief so moved Hades, king of the underworld, that Orpheus was allowed to take Eurydice with him back to the world of life and light. Hades set one condition, however: On leaving the land of death, both Orpheus and Eurydice were forbidden to look back. The couple climbed up toward the opening into the land of the living, and Orpheus, seeing the Sun again, turned back to share his delight with Eurydice. At that moment, she disappeared, lost to him forever.

Orpheus himself was later killed by the women of Thrace. Aeschylus, says that they were Maenads urged by Dionysus to tear him to pieces in a Bacchic orgy because he preferred the worship of the rival god Apollo. The dismembered limbs of Orpheus were gathered up and buried by the Muses. His lyre they had placed in the heavens as a constellation. The story of Orpheus was transformed and provided with a happy ending in the medieval English romance of Sir Orfeo. The character of Orpheus appears in Monteverdi's 'Orfeo' in the 16th century, Christoph Gluck’s opera 'Orfeo ed Euridice' in the 18th century,  in Jean Cocteau’s drama and film “Orphée” and the Brazilian film “Black Orpheus”  in the 20th century.

The painting above is Peter Paul Rubens’ “Orpheus and Eurydice”, painted between 1636 and 1638. It is a large work 194 × 245 cm, and is now housed in the Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland.

Here is the theme song from “Black Orpheus” sung by Astrud Gilberto. “Manhã de Carnaval” (“Morning of Carnival”), is the title to the most popular song by Brazilian composers, Luiz Bonfá and Antonio Maria. The song appeared in the 1959 Portuguese-language film Orfeu Negro (English titled: Black Orpheus), by French director Marcel Camus based on a play by Vinícius de Moraes. Specially in the USA, the song is considered to be one of the most important Brazilian Jazz/Bossa songs that helped establish the Bossa Nova movement in the late 1950s. Manhã de Carnaval has become a jazz standard in the USA, while it is still performed regularly by a wide variety of musicians around the world in its vocal version or just as an instrumental one.

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