Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Wasps - Comedy with Complete Incidental Music

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The Wasps by Aristophanes - Comedy with Complete Incidental Music (1909)

TEXT: https://sites.google.com/site/musicanthtext/wasps
I recommend opening the text in another window to follow along with the recording.


Act I

Act II


This is a recording of the satirical comedy "The Wasps" with incidental music by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), as produced at Cambridge University in 1909 - except here it is performed in English with a modern translation and adaptation by British theatre director David Pountney (born 1947). The original playwright is, of course, the great ancient Greek dramatist Aristophanes (ca. 446 BC - ca. 386 BC). The triennial performance of an ancient Greek play in the original language is a long-standing tradition at Oxford and Cambridge. In 1908, the Cambridge Greek Play Comittee invited Ralph Vaughan Williams, who had studied at Trinity College as an undergraduate, to compose incidental music for "The Wasps". Although he had few successes under his belt at this early stage in his career, Vaughan Williams' nomination was supported by Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford, both of whom had written Greek Play scores at Cambridge and had taught Vaughan Williams.

The comedies of Aristophanes typically use three characters: a protagonist, antagonist and chorus. In Pountney's version, one narrator portrays both the protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist here is Procleon (called Philocleon in the original play), an old Athenian soldier with hopelessly bigoted and curmudgeonly views. He is completely addicted to the law courts, where he loves serving on the jury and condemning all defendants that come his way. The antagonist is his son Anticleon (or Bdelycleon in the original play), who is derisively called Sandra by his father, and he is a vain young man very concerned about maintaining appearances. Both names pun on that of the prominent Athenian statesman Cleon (or Klion), whom Aristophanes viewed as a warmongering demagogue; Cleon's political power base was in the Athenian law courts. This version of the comedy opens with a scene where the incensed Procleon is being kept prisoner in his son's house, in an attempt to prevent him from going to the law courts. Eventually the old jury regulars (known as the Wasps) stop by at Anticleon's house and attempt to liberate their companion Procleon. Havoc ensues, leading to a debate on the merits of jury duty between father and son, as well as the conversion of the house into a law court which puts a dog on trial. I'll let the play itself explain the rest.

Narrator: Henry Goodman
Chorus Leader: Richard Suart
Chorus Master: James Burton
Music Director: Mark Elder
The Hallé Orchestra and Chorus