Phedre Overture

From Wind Repertory Project
Jules Massenet

Jules Massenet (arr. Lucien Cailliet)

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General Info

Year: 1873 / 1965
Duration: c. 10:20
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra
Publisher: Sam Fox
Cost: Score and Parts – Out of print.


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

The overture to Phèdre one of Massenet’s early works, having been written in 1876 [other sources say 1873], is very dramatic, and in its material closely follows the story as told by Racine in his tragedy of Phèdre, daughter of the Cretan King Minos, who becomes the wife of Theseus. In the unconventional manner of the mythological personage she next becomes enamored of Hippolytus, son of Theseus, but without any encouragement on the part of the former. Thereupon the crafty Phèdre makes Theseus jealous of his own son, and the father commits him to the vengeance of Neptune, who terrifies his horses with a sea monster while driving in his chariot. He is killed, but the skillful Aesculapius restores him to life, and Diana conveys him to Italy, where he lives happily ever after, under the protection of the charming nymph Egeria. The story, as will be observed, gives ample material for dramatic treatment.

The overture opens with a massive, gloomy introduction, leading up to an impassioned theme for clarinet, suggesting Phèdre’s lament over her unrequited passion. After a counter-theme for oboe, the opening theme is heard again and leads to another impassioned outburst as Hippolytus is about departing. The violins in unison follow with Phèdre’s declaration of love for Hippolytus, after which occur the storm and an impetuous outburst describing Neptune’s wrath. This thematic material is worked up, and the overture closes with the sombre, impressive theme which opened it.

- Program Note from Music with Ease

In 1873, Jules Massenet turned to Racine’s Phèdre as the inspiration for a piece he was composing to fulfill a commission from the conductor and impresario Jules-Étienne Pasdeloup. The Phèdre Overture, which seeks to capture the grandeur and stark tragedy of Racine’s drama, opens with a stern summons that recurs as a motto throughout the work. A sad, lyrical melody depicts the longing of Phaedra before the summons theme returns to close the introduction. The main body of the work is launched by a breathless mutation of the summons motive. Following a climax, the complementary theme, distinguished by a languid turn figure, provides contrast. The playing out of these two subjects occupies the rest of the overture, which is once interrupted for a reminiscence of the theme of Phaedra’s longing.

- Program Note by Dr. Richard E. Rodda for the Peninsula Music Festival, August 6, 2016


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State Ratings

  • Alabama: Class AA
  • Louisiana: V
  • Tennessee: VI


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  • Greenbrier High School (Evans, Ga.) Wind Ensemble (Brian M. Toney, conductor) - 13 April 2022

Works for Winds by This Composer