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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Wednesday, March 24

Glass's "Akhnaten"

Synopsis

The 14th century B.C.E. pharaoh Akhnaten is remembered for his radical abandonment of the multiple gods of Egypt in favor of just one: the sun god Aten. Akhnaten’s heresy ended with his death when traditional beliefs were quickly reestablished and Akhnaten’s name literally chiseled out of Egyptian history.

Sigmund Freud’s “Moses and Monotheism” opined that Moses might have been an Egyptian priest of Akhnaten, and Immanuel Velikovsky, a once-popular but fanciful historian, suggested in his book “Oedipus and Akhnaton,” that a garbled memory of Akhnaten’s reign was the source of the Greek tragedy “Oedipus the King.”

The American composer Philip Glass credits both those authors among the inspirations for his opera “Akhnaten,” which premiered on today’s date in 1984 at the Staatstheaer in Stuttgart, Germany.

In 1984, the Stuttgart opera was undergoing renovations, so the premiere was moved to a much smaller hall, with a much smaller orchestra pit. Rather than scrimp on other instruments, Philip Glass simply made a virtue of necessity and omitted the entire violin section from his score. The role of Akhnaten is sung by a counter-tenor, whose high voice provides a striking contrast to the a low, dark timbre of the Glass’s violin-less orchestration.

Music Played in Today's Program

Philip Glass (b. 1937) Hymn to the Sun, from Akhnaten Paul Esswood, ct; Stuttgart Opera Orchestra; Dennis Russel Davies, cond. CBS Masterworks/Sony 42457

Additional Information

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