In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus travels widely and survives numerous trials through wit and cunning while the most important figure in his life, Penelope, remains at home and survives an equally harrowing situation in an effort to preserve the kingdom. In order to delay the unwanted advances from the crowd of suitors determined to force her into marriage, she develops a ruse in which she agrees to consider their proposals only after completing a death shroud for her father-in-law. Alone in her quarters, she weaves during the day and unweaves the entire tapestry at night, thus maintaining her solitude and holding her household intact for more than three long years. Brilliant and combative in public, she becomes increasingly despondent in private.
SHROUD, my piano concerto, takes Penelope’s character and circumstance as a point of departure, rather than being wedded to the narrative itself. In Penelope, the piano part from the concerto is adapted as a solo work, further distancing itself from the source material. This suggests a change in scenario – perhaps an encounter with Penelope some years after the events of the Odyssey, where she recounts her ordeal, the effects of which still have visceral impact. The moods and behaviors range – sometimes quite rapidly – from meditative and cautious to imperious rage. Nevertheless, the purpose is not merely to present a mercurial and complex persona, but to construct an expressive trajectory in which the protagonist attempts to assert control of her situation before unraveling, tragically losing her prodigious fluency as she retreats into silence.
Penelope is dedicated with great affection to my longtime collaborator and friend Shannon Wettstein Sadler.
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