Peter Boyer: Three Olympians

Context

Peter Boyer was commissioned by The Conductors Institute to compose a work for them in 2000. Three Olympians was the outcome of this commission. The original recording was done at the Abbey Road Studios, with the London Symphony Orchestra (2001). The work was recorded again in 2014, again at Abbey Road, but this time with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. 

 

The Music

Set into three movements, each movement represents a Greek God.

1. Apollo

2. Aphrodite

3. Ares

 

The work is composed for a large string orchestra.

 

Movement I – Apollo

Apollo is the God of healing, medicine and archery, music and poetry. The bold opening for Apollo’s entry is marked by long sweeping long notes from the whole ensemble. The powerful image at the start is soon developed into a quick-paced melody. The artistic side of Apollo shines through here, with the charming theme resonating from the upper strings. 

Boyer uses some interesting extended techniques to add some interest in the timbres. He instructs some of the sections to play col legno, meaning to use the wooden part of their bow. This creates a harsh and dull sound amidst the peppy melody being intertwined. Boyer also uses pizzicato sections to oppose the rich string writing found in the rest of the movement. Not just usual pizzicato techniques are used, however, Boyer instructs some of the upper strings to ‘snap pizzicato’, creating even more of an impact. 

The exciting finale of this movement builds intensity, whilst also showing off Boyer’s finesse for orchestration. A reprise of the opening material is heard in its wonderful entirety before the movements comes to a rumbling conclusion.

 

Movement II – Aphrodite

Aphrodite is the Goddess of love and beauty. The sonorous middle movement showcases beautiful atmospheres for the Goddess of love. The lamenting lower strings, coupled with the extremely high upper violins, decorated the luscious middle strings melody. The rich timbres from the violas and cellos add to the overall richness of the textures that Boyer creates. 

This movement is perhaps the most lyrical of the three, with sparkling accompaniments behaving just as lyrically as the melody line. There is an homage to the opening suspended chords of the first movement, which shows the sibling links between these three Olympians, as they are all children of Zeus. After an intense climax near the end of the movement, the music begins to thin in texture and slowly die away. 

 

Movement III – Ares

Ares is the God of war. The militaristic opening from the whole orchestra in unison shows the power that Ares has. The war-like atmosphere is set in such a brilliant style by Boyer, with him further exploring dissonances in the upper string parts to add excitement and tension to the atmosphere. 

Stridently martial throughout, the music is powerful, aggressive and fizzing with excitement. Boyer uses pizzicato, slaps, col legno and glissandos to accentuate this movement. The fast tremolos in the middle section die out quickly to make way for the bold next call and response section. The angular movement of the melody and the aggressive swipes, militaristic thunder and one last pizzicato snap makes for a truly dazzling end to this fantastic suite of music. 

 

Final Thoughts

Peter Boyer’s Three Olympians is an impressive work that showcases the characteristics of three of the twelve Olympians. Boyer’s modernist style is striking through his orchestrations and use of just a string orchestra. From Apollo’s charm, to Aphrodite’s love and Ares war power, Three Olympians is a real tour-de-force of the Greek Gods.

 

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy…Jennifer Higdon: All Things Majestic

 

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