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Xenakis, Iannis

Oresteia (1965-66,rev.1969/87/89)

Duration: 50 minutes

for baritone, mixed chorus and chamber ensemble

English   Deutsch  

Text by Aeschylus (Gr)


Solo Bar; children's chorus, mixed chorus (18 men and 18 women, or multiples thereof) doubling perc: wood simantras/metal simantras/whips/sirens/metal sheets/maracas

1(=picc).1.0.Ebcl.dbcl.0.dbn-1.1(=picc.tpt).1.1-perc(3):2timp(sm,lg)/2bongos/SD/BD(lg)/2wdbl/2lion's roar/2gongs(sm,lg)/2tamb(without jingles)/whip/4tom-t/2nylon brushes(long bristles)/2maracas/thunder-sheet(lg)/glsp-vlc

Each instrumentalist (except percussionists) doubles on each of tgl/tamb(varying pitch,without jingles)/siren/glass chimes/whip/metal sheets/lion's roar/rattles

Audience plays metal simantras

Performances of Oresteia should include Kassandra (1987) for baritone, psalterium and solo percussion (15 minutes), and La Déesse Athena (1992) for baritone and twelve instruments (9 minutes). Both additional scores are available from Editions Salabert.

Abbreviations (PDF)


This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

World stage premiere
Gibellina, Sicily
Iannis Kokkos and Rene Loyon, director
Conductor: Michel Tabachnik and Dominique Debart
Company: Spiros Sakkas (Cassandra); Sylvia Gualda, perc; Ensemble Instrumental de Basse-Normandie; 280choris

Time and Place

Ancient Greece


In the wake of the Trojan War, the chorus sings a song of woe in recognition of the harsh dictates of human fate. Kassandra recalls how she rejected Apollo, who punished her by giving her the gift of foretelling the future yet decreeing that she should never be believed. She describes the death of Agamemnon at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus on his return to Crete following the destruction of Troy. The chorus mourns him, followed by his son Orestes who, encouraged by his sister Electra, determines upon revenge. He goes off to mete out justice to those who murdered his father. Aegisthus's death-cry is heard. At Delphi, the chorus and the Furies intone upon Orestes's terrible deed: as the murderer of his own mother he can expect nothing other than divine retribution. At the first trial ever held for bloodshed he stands ready to be convicted, but then the goddess Athena intervenes. She first ordains the court as a permanent means of righting wrongs and preventing others, then mollifies the Furies with persuasion and the offer of a new role in human affairs, that of the Eumenides, to prosper the godly. The Furies enter into their new abode. A hymn is sung to celebrate this new relationship between men and the gods.

Press Quotes

“…sharp-edged, otherworldly…“Oresteia” works powerfully on its own terms.
The New York Times

"...a deeply moving theatrical poetic masterpiece."
Opera Now

"Distant from any more restrained emotion, fear and horror are elementally experienced through dark and threatening sounds."
Suddeutsche Zeitung

“...arresting… Xenakis never wrote a score that didn't instantly grab the ear and deliver a satisfying musical experience. …the elemental impact of the piece is undeniable... wholly mesmerizing.”


Dramatic, Tragic


Ethics, Literary, Mythology, Relationships

Recommended Recording

Spiros Sakkas, Sylvio Gualda, Choeur de Département musical de l'Université de Strasbourg, Maïtrise de Colmar, Ensemble Vocal d'Anjou, Ensemble de Basse-Normandie, Dominique Debart
Montaigne 782151

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