Penelope’s Song

Jacob Swanson, Soprano Sax; Video by Kathy Aoki and Marco Marquez

Instrumentation: Amplified viola and electronic playback
(Versions available for amplified clarinet, flute, soprano saxophone, violin, or cello and electronic playback)
Duration: 9:05
Premiere: 9/17/03
Laura Wilcox, viola,
Musica Viva Festival
Coimbra, Portugal

Clarinet Score | Flute Score | Soprano Sax Score | Violin ScoreViola Score | Cello Score  | Purchase music

Program Note:
Penelope’s Song is a tribute to Penelope, Queen of Ithaca and wife of Odysseus. It was inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, which tells of the travails of Odysseus, of his ten years at war in Troy, and then, due to the sea-god Poseidon’s wrath, for another ten. Scant attention is paid to Penelope, left waiting for all that time, with many greedy and arrogant suitors attempting to woo her to become king. To stave them off, she devised excuses. She said she would take no suitor until she finished weaving a shroud for her husband’s aged father, Laertes. But, since she unraveled at night what she wove by day, she made no progress. This piece sings of her, giving voice to her experience and response to her own challenges. I created the electronics from recordings I made of Charlottesville weaver Jan Russell working on her wooden looms. I processed and shaped these, weaving a new sonic fabric, and then treated the acoustic and digital elements as warp and weft of a new tapestry. I composed the original version of Penelope’s Song for viola and electronics, with thanks to Rozanna Weinberger and Laura Wilcox for their insights and interpretations.

Since the premiere, I have composed versions of this work for amplified flute, clarinet, soprano sax, violin, and cello. Each involved collaboration with the outstanding performers for whom they were composed and who also recorded it in the following versions: flute (Lindsey Goodman), clarinet   (Andrea Cheeseman),  soprano sax (Susan Fancher), and violin (Hasse Borup). In addition, artist Kathy Aoki and animator Marco Marquez have created a compelling companion video available to accompany the performance. They embodied elements of the narrative, first building up the weaving, then creating a night scene of reflection before coming back to the threads, now more chaotic, before dramatically bursting them. –JS

Press Quotes:
“Judith Shatin’s Penelope’s Song is inspired by the story of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, who, while waiting for her husband’s return, spent two decades weaving at her loom and keeping at bay numerous suitors who wished to supplant him. Musically depicting Penelope’s determination, faith and despair, it was written for and performed by violist Rozanna Weinberger with an electronic accompaniment based on the steady, repetitious sound of wooden looms…The work, receiving its U.S. premiere, was dramatic and effective.”
Charlottesville Weekly

“Judith Shatin’s Penelope’s Song is a compelling piece of musique concrète using the sound and rhythm of a weaver’s loom to tell the story of Odysseus through his wife’s view.”

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