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Acis, Galatea, and Polyphemus

This week we discuss versions of the story Acis and Galatea by Lully, Literes, Handel, and Naumann, as well as a new release of Buxtehude’s organ music.

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The story of Acis and Galatea comes to us from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Its principal characters—the shepherd Acis, the sea nymph Galatea, and the cyclops Polyphemus—are all involved in a love triangle.  Acis and Polyphemus are rivals who are in love with Galatea.  She, in turn, is in love with Acis, yet is repulsed by Polyphemus.  The end of the story finds Polyphemus so angry with Acis that he kills him with a boulder.  But all is not lost because Acis is then turned into a river and, hence, immortalized.

Baroque composers were known to set the Acis and Galatea story in many individual ways.  Jean-Baptitste Lully expanded the cast of characters and storyline in what was his last complete opera, finished only months before his death.  Today it is considered a masterpiece.

Spanish composer Antonio de Literes wrote his own version as a two act zarzuela in honor of King Philip V’s birthday.  It was so loved in its day that it was revived in Madrid at least half-a-dozen times.  Historians claim that it may be the most popular of any zarzuela from the early 18th Century.

By far, the most famous composition based on the story belongs to George Frideric Handel, who wrote a version in English that enjoyed immense popularity.  He had previously set one in Italian many years before while visiting Naples.  The English version reached another peak late in the 18th Century when Mozart was commissioned to make an arrangement of it in German.

Like Lully’s setting heard earlier in the program, Johann Gottlieb Naumann’s Aci e Galatea was also his last composition.  He, too, expanded the story a bit by adding a number of supporting characters.

We’ll stay in Germany with our new release of the week.  Loft Recordings brings us volume two of Dieterich Buxtehude’s complete works for organ.  Hans Davidsson is the organ soloist in a performance of the Fuga in C major.

Here’s a video of baritone Matthew Rose performing Poylphemus’s aria “O ruddier than the cherry” with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Christopher Hogwood, dir.):


The music heard in this episode was performed by Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marta Almajano, Al Ayre Español, London Baroque, The King’s Consort, The English Concert, and Barockorchester Stuttgart.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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