Relayed from the National Museum of Wales
National Orchestra of Wales
(Cerddorfa Genedlaethol Cymru)
One of the most scholarly of composers, Saint-Saens turned more than once to the classical mythology for his subjects; in this symphonic poem he sets before us Ovid's story of Hercules' submission to Omphale, of his taking her place at the spinning-wheel among her women, the while she donned his lion's skin and held his club, striking him with her sandals for his clumsiness. Saint-Saens meant his music to typify the constant triumph, through the ages, of woman's so-called weakness over the vaunted strength of more man.
The poem begins with a prelude, suggesting the spinning - wheel - classic symbol of the eternal feminine, and then a dainty, tripping tune portrays Omphale. A big, robust tune. played first by bassoon and lower strings, is just as clearly Hercules. These are elaborated at some length, rising to a passionate fervour and falling anon into a quieter mood, and then we hear, in a tune of short crisp notes-an altered form of Hercules' tune-Omphale's use of her sandals in the time-hallowed fashion which the story tells.
All these tunes, as well as one more, closely akin to the Omphale melody, are heard again, and after the spinning-wheel music has returned, the piece comes to an end very softly.
Much of Sir Frederic Cowen's bright and wholesome music deals with one picturesque aspect or another of England, particularly England of the open air and the changing seasons. In this bright and graceful Suite, the movements are based on the old-fashioned tradition by which each of the flowers had a significance of its own. There are in all six movements as follows:-
(1) Innocence (the Daisy), (2) First emotions of love (Lilac), (3) Fascination (Fern), (4) Folly (Columbine), (5) Elegance and Grace (Yellow Jasmine), (6) Gaiety (The Lily)