Composers Datebook®

'Medea,' by Charpentier (and Druckman)

Composers Datebook - 20231204


On today’s date in 1693, a new opera based on an old legend had its premiere performance at the Académie de la Musique in Paris. The new opera was by French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The old legend was that of Medea, the sorceress who murdered her children to avenge her abandonment by their father, the Greek hero Jason.

Charpentier’s Médée (to give his opera its French title) was well received by its first audiences. The most celebrated French soprano of her day sang the title role, but one contemporary critic, impressed by Charpentier’s achievement, wrote, “The emotions are so vivid, that even if the role were only spoken, the opera would not fail to make a great impression.”

In the three centuries following Charpentier’s opera, many other musicians have taken up the Medea legend as well. In 1980, American composer Jacob Druckman took themes from three famous Medea operas and worked these into a three-movement orchestral suite, Prisms, with Charpentier’s version of Medea having pride of place and quoted in the first movement of Druckman’s score.

Music Played in Today's Program

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1635 – 1704) Médée; Les Arts Florissants; William Christie, cond. Harmonia Mundi 90.1139/41

Jacob Druckman (1928 – 1996) Prism; New York Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta, cond. New World 335

On This Day


  • 1660 - Baptism of French composer André Campra, in Aix-en-Provence;

  • 1667 - Baptism of French composer and theorist Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, in Andelot;

  • 1879 - Irish composer and conductor (Sir) Hamilton Harty, in Hillsborough, County Down;


  • 1935 - Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen, age 71, in Oslo;

  • 1953 - American composer and writer on music Daniel Gregory Mason, age 80, Greenwich, Conn.;

  • 1976 - British composer Benjamin Britten, age 63, in Aldeburgh;

  • 1993 - American composer and guitarist Frank Zappa, age 52, in Los Angeles;


  • 1693 - M.-A, Charpentier: opera, "Médée," in Paris;

  • 1816 - Rossini: opera "Otello," in Naples at the Teatro del Fondo;

  • 1920 - Korngold: opera "Die tote Stadt," simultaneously in Hamburg and Cologne; The Hamburg premiere was conducted by Egon Pollak, the Cologne premiere by Otto Klemperer;

  • 1845 - R. Schumann: Piano Concerto in a, Op. 54, in Dresden, Ferdinand Hiller conducting, with Clara Schumann the soloist;

  • 1881 - Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto, in Vienna by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Hans Richter, with Adolf Brodsky as soloist;

  • 1885 - American premiere of Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 in d, at the Old Metropolitan Opera House in New York, during an afternoon public rehearsal by the New York Symphony Society, with the 23-year old Walter Damrosch; The “official” concert occurred the following evening; This was the first time any Bruckner Symphony was performed in America; In his Preface to a 1942 book by Werner Wolff entitled “Anton Bruckner: Rustic Genius,” Damrosch incorrectly states it was Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony (in E-flat Major, subtitled “Romantic”) that he performed on Dec. 5, 1885;

  • 1895 - Rachmaninoff: “Caprice bohémien” (Capriccio on Gypsy Themes), in Moscow, with the composer conducting (Julian date: Nov. 22);

  • 1898 - Dvorák: symphonic poem "Hero's Song," Op. 111, in Vienna;

  • 1909 - Wolf-Ferrari: opera, "Il segreto di Susanna," in Munich, at the Hoftheater;

  • 1922 - Bax: Symphony No. 1, in London;

  • 1949 - Dallapiccola: opera "I Prigioniero" (The Prisoner), in a broadcast concert performance in Turin by the Italian Radio; The first staged performance of this opera took place on May 20, 1950, in Florence.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®