Author: Jane Roper 1
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  • 1 Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BS, United Kingdom
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Goldmark was the first of several composers to write a work based on Heinrich von Kleist’s controversial play, Penthesilea. Early critical opinion about the overture was divided. Hanslick found it distasteful, whereas others were thrilled by Goldmark’s powerful treatment of the subject. Composed in 1879, during the 1880s Penthesilea became established in orchestral repertoire throughout Europe and America. The overture represents the conflict of violence and sexual attraction between the Queen of the Amazons and Achilles. Exoticism in the play is achieved by contrasting brutal violence, irrational behaviour and extreme sensual passion. This is recreated musically by drawing on topics established in opera. Of particular note is the use of dissonance and unexpected modulations, together with extreme rhythmic and dynamic contrast. A key feature of the music is the interplay between military rhythms representing violence and conflict, and a legato, rocking theme which suggests desire and sensuality.

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