Oedipus Tyrannus

for solo Baroque double bass and Baroque ensemble

2014; 30-45 minutes

Oedipus Tyrannus is divided into nine movements that mirror the structure of Sophocles's play:

  1. Introduction (Overture)
  2. Choral Ode 1
  3. Investigation A (Tiresias, Jocasta)
  4. Choral Ode 2
  5. Investigation B (The Messenger)
  6. Choral Ode 3
  7. Investigation C (The Shepherd)
  8. Choral Ode 4
  9. Coda

The choral odes imitate the role of the chorus in Ancient Greek dramaturgy, the role of the observer and commentator. All four share a melodic theme, and are generally for reduced instrumentation in order to contrast with the forces of the investigations. The three investigations are also connected by related themes. They deal with the three characters who explain Oedipus's past to him, in different levels of detail and each with his own revelation to add to the sorry story. Tiresias and The Shepherd resist Oedipus's quest for knowledge, while The Messenger from Corinth is all too eager to please the king. Jocasta, with even more to lose than most from the discovery of the truth, is especially reticent. The idea of "investigation" is represented by an instrumental trio of "researchers" set against both the soloist and the larger ensemble.

Sophocles's play is fascinating in that its Athenian audience knew the ending the first time the play was performed, and today we still do when we read or see it. Yet the play has always and continues to hold our attention. Oedipus's desire to know the truth is mirrored in the audience's own equivalent desire; in a sense, we become him. My music echoes this structure in the use of recurring motives and large-scale harmonic and melodic development.

The Introduction can stand alone as Overture to Oedipus, and the recording above is taken from such a performance.


If you are interested in a score and parts for Oedipus Tyrranus or its little brother, Overture to Oedipus, please contact Nissim. The complete ensemble is solo double bass with traverso/recorder; Baroque oboe; Baroque percussion; harpsichord; Baroque violin, viola, and cello; and violone. Nonetheless, the ensemble is flexible, and could be arranged for a different set of instruments as long as there are roughly the same number of high, middle, and low voices.


  • Overture to Oedipus was premiered at La Courneuve (near Paris) on April 9, 2014. Fran¨ois Leyrit played the solo bass part. Mauricio Ahumada conducted. Samuel Rotsztejn, traverso/recorder; Gabriel Pidoux, oboe; Laurent Sauron, percussion; Marina Voznyuk, harpsichord; Koji Ueda, Baroque violin; Tania-lio Faucon-cohen, Baroque viola; Nicolas Verhoeven, Baroque 'cello; Adrien Alix, violone.
Contact Nissim Schaul