Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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French male-voice choral movement. It developed from 1815 through the work of Guillaume Louis Bocquillon Wilhem, a strong advocate of the teaching of singing in schools, who first used the term Orphéon about 1830. The Orphéon choral society was established in Paris in 1833 and rapidly expanded (see Paris, §VI, 4); an annual concert was given at the Trocadéro with 1500 performers. A military Orphéon was established at Lyons in 1843, and by 1859 there were 700 provincial societies; 3000 ‘Orphéonistes’ performed in London in 1860. By the turn of the century the movement reached a peak of popularity with over 2000 societies in France, where it was the equivalent of British competitive festivals.


M. Maréchal and G. Parès: Monographie universelle de l'Orphéon, sociétés chorales, fanfares (Paris, 1910)

J. Fulcher: ‘The Orphéon Societies: “Music for the Workers” in Second-Empire France’, IRASM, x (1979), 47–72


Legendary figure of Greek pre-history. He was thought to have lived during the generation before the Trojan War.

1. Orpheus and music.

Various ancient references make Orpheus a Thracian, thus placing him with other legendary singers from Thrace such as Linus and Thamyris. He was usually accounted the son of the Muse Calliope and of Oeagrus, but Pindar (Pythian, iv.176–7) referred to Apollo ambiguously as either Orpheus’s patron or his father. He was at any rate linked with the god in many ways, notably through music (see Musaeus).

Neither the poetry ascribed to Orpheus or to his followers nor the varying religious practices called Orphism by modern scholars has any strong connection with music. Non-Orphic literature and art, for the most part, provide the evidence for his single most striking aspect, namely his fame as an unequalled singer to the lyre who possessed magical power to move all living things. Orpheus first appears in a sculptured panel of the mid-6th century bce; here he stands upon a ship’s deck, holding a kithara. Certain details identify the scene as being from the Argonaut myth. Later in the 6th century the poet Ibycus noted his fame, but significant literary references first occur in 5th-century writers, beginning with Simonides’ lyrical description of the birds and fish listening to Orpheus’s singing. Pindar (Pythian, iv.177) called him ‘the father of song’; Aeschylus (Agamemnon, 1629–30) wrote of his power to charm the whole of nature; Euripides mentioned this power repeatedly (Bacchae, 560–64 is a representative passage), stressing its magical aspect, and in the Rhesus Orpheus showed ‘mysteries’ (943–4, 966), taken to be the rites of Dionysus (Apollodorus, i.3.2).

In the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius, Orpheus serves as the boatswain whose music set the beat for the rowers (i.540). But the same work, together with the later Orphic Argonautica based on it, makes clear that his singing and playing saved Argo’s company from the Sirens and other perils. Through these extraordinary gifts he also won the chance to bring his wife Eurydice up from Hades. His powers continued to manifest themselves even after his own death: after he had been torn apart by Thracian women, his severed head continued to sing and prophesy until carried by the waves to Lesbos, which then became the most musical of all islands (Virgil, Georgics, iv.523–4; Ovid, Metamorphoses, xi.50–55). Here the myth is clearly aetiological, an attempt to account for the great tradition of Terpander, Sappho and Alcaeus (cf Nicomachus, Excerpts, 1: ed. Jan, 266). In early Christian times Christians displayed a distinctly contradictory attitude towards the figure of Orpheus, whose worship did not diminish in the midst of Christian observance: they depicted Christ with the lyre, but saw music’s power to enchant as an attribute of Satan.

In every case, the incidents that constitute the Orpheus legend have some connection with music. For the Greeks he was the supreme embodiment of music’s affective power, intensified to the extreme of literal enchantment. They credited him with this power not only as singer and lyre player but also as poet and seer (cf Euripides, Alcestis, 357–62). A modern conception of music will not suffice here: Orpheus represents the broader context inherent in the term mousikē, the province of the Muses.

2. Later treatments.

Musical treatment of the Orpheus myth has concentrated on the death of Eurydice, Orpheus's wife, and his attempt to retrieve her from the underworld. The tree-nymph Eurydice trod on a snake when chased by Aristaeus, son of Apollo and Cyrene. Orpheus braved the ferryman Charon, the Furies, and the monstrous dog Cerberus, and so charmed death's domain by his music that the return of Eurydice was granted provided he did not look on her during the upward journey. The classical myth consigns Eurydice to the shades once more; opera has usually preferred a happy ending, relying on the immortality of Orpheus as lyre player and the ultimate favour of the gods. In a non-operatic context, certain composers have treated of Orpheus's death at the hands of Thracian bacchantes and the casting of his severed head into the river Hebrus.

Operas based on the Orpheus myth cover a period of almost 400 years. Among the more notable are 17th-century works by Jacopo Peri (1600), Giulio Caccini (1602), Monteverdi (1607), Domenico Belli (1616), Stefano Landi (1619), Luigi Rossi (1647), J.J. Löwe von Eisenach (1659), Antonio Sartorio (1672), Matthew Locke (1673), J.P. Krieger (1683), Antonio Draghi (1683), M.-A. Charpentier (c1685), Bernardo Sabadini (1689), Lully (1690), Reinhard Keiser (1698, rev. 1699, 1709) and André Campra (1699, Act 3 of Le carnaval de Venise).

Many Orpheus operas stem from the 18th century: John Weldon (c1701), Fux (1715), Telemann (1726), J.F. Lampe (1740), Rameau (c1740, projected), Ristori (1749), Wagenseil (1750), Graun (1752), Gluck (1762 and 1774), F.-H. Barthélemon (1767), Antonio Tozzi (1775), Bertoni (1776), Asplmayr (1780, lost melodrama), Franz Benda (1785), J.G. Naumann (1786), Dittersdorf (1788), J.F. Reichardt (1788, revision of Bertoni, 1776), Trento (1789), Haydn (1791), Paer (1791), Peter Winter (1792), P.-D. Deshayes (1793, parody of Gluck) and Antoine Dauvergne (composed before 1797).

Orpheus interest continued into the 19th century with such composers as Christian Cannabich (1802), Kanne (1807), Kauer (1813), Offenbach (1858) and Godard (1887); and the myth persisted into 20th-century opera with Azevedo da Silva (1907), Debussy (1907–16, projected Orphée-roi), Roger-Ducasse (1913), Malipiero (1925, parts 1 and 3 of the triptych L'Orfeide), Milhaud (1925), Krenek (1926), Casella (1932) and Birtwistle (1986).

The Orpheus story has also been treated in other ways. Robert Gallenberg (1831) and Stravinsky (1948) wrote ballets on the subject. Liszt's symphonic poem Orpheus (1854), designed as prelude to a performance of Gluck's opera, was arranged by the composer for two pianos (c1854–6) and piano duet (c1858); Liszt also composed a postlude to the opera on the same themes (unpublished). The dismemberment of Orpheus was tackled by Berlioz in his ‘monologue et bacchanale’ La mort d'Orphée (composed 1827) and by Tippett in ‘The Severed Head’, first of three songs from part 2 of The Mask of Time (1982).


GroveO (F.W. Sternfeld) [incl. fuller list of operas and further bibliography]

K. von Jan, ed.: Musici scriptores graeci (Leipzig, 1895/R)

R. Eisler: Orpheus: the Fisher (London, 1921)

W.K.C. Guthrie: Orpheus and Greek Religion (London, 1934, 2/1952/R)

K. Ziegler: ‘Orpheus’, Paulys Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, xxxv (1939), 1251–3

I.M. Linforth: The Arts of Orpheus (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1941/R)

R. Böhme: Orpheus: das Alter des Kitharoden (Berlin, 1953)

A. Marlow: ‘Orpheus in Ancient Literature, Music and Letters’, ML, xxxv (1954), 361–9

H. Koller: ‘Orpheus, der irdische Sänger’, Musik und Dichtung im alten Griechenland (Berne, 1963), 49–58

G.R.S. Mead: Orpheus (New York, 1965)

J. Pollard: Seers, Shrines and Sirens (London, 1965), 93ff

R. Böhme: Orpheus: der Sänger und seine Zeit (Berne and Munich, 1970)

J.B. Friedman: Orpheus in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, MA, 1970)

M. Detienne: ‘Orphée au miel’, Quaderni urbinati de cultura classica, xii (1971), 7–23

W.A. Strauss: Descent and Return: the Orphic Theme in Modern Literature (Cambridge, MA, 1971)

R.A. Skeris: Chrōma theou: on the Origins and Theological Interpretations of the Musical Imagery used by the Ecclesiastical Writers of the First Three Centuries, with Special Reference to the Image of Orpheus (Altötting, 1976)

L. Vorreiter: ‘Apollon-, Orpheus-, und Thamyris-Lyren’, Archiv für Musik-organologie, ii (1977), 113–33

C. Segal: ‘The Magic of Orpheus and the Ambiguities of Language’, Ramus, vii (1978), 106–42

M.L. West: The Orphic Poems (Oxford, 1983)

W. Burkett: Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche (Stuttgart, 1977; Eng. trans., 1985), 296–301

F. Graf: ‘Orpheus: a Poet among Men’, Interpretations of Greek Mythology, ed. J. Bremmer (London, 1987), 80–106

For further bibliography see Greece, §I.


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