Orestes: Stasimon Chorus
Euripides (ca. 485- ca. 406 B.C.E)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, Volume 1 CD 1 Track 2
Any survey of the history of music must be cautious to think of our history as a collection and not an evolution. And this piece, a stasimon, offers a temptation. This music is heard in a moment when the Greek chorus, unmoving, describes the tragic hero and pleads his case to the gods. Much in the same way, though without text, the overture to a romantic opera sets the mood. It is tempting to think of the overture as a form evolved from a stasimon. But the loss in that path is to overlook the pertinent effectiveness of the stasimon, and this one in particular. Our historical perspective and scholarly resources provide us with the possibility that music can be absolutely anything. How could we turn away from that?
We hear a sinuous melody with long pauses between phrases played on instruments of varying registers. Percussive clangs sit in spaces between phrases. After an antique-sounding cymbal clash and small tremolo, the melody starts again but with voices instead of instruments.
What I like about this stasimon is its ability to convey the staggering Orestes post murderous revenge. However insensitive we might be to dochmiac foot, we cannot miss the mood. Euripides (or whomever the composer was) takes us through the tune once before we hear it with the text. The unique antique-sounding cymbal clash and tremolo are different enough from what we have so far heard that our ears are ready to return to the beginning and to set the text to this serpentine melody. Because the melody takes its time and does not try to become the emotions, there is plenty of room to imagine and feel Orestes' plight.