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Three Latin Elegies to Lesbia

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By Mark D. Templeton

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Choir, SATB - Intermediate - Digital Download
Composed by Mark D. Templeton. 21st Century, Contemporary Classical, Modern, Neo-Classical. Sheet Music Single. 20 pages. Published by Mark Templeton Choral Music (S0.139701).

Item Number: S0.139701

Three LatinElegies to Lesbiais a setting of three poems written by the ancient Roman poet, Gaius ValeriusCatullus (84-54 B.C.E.). His muse in these poems is understood to beLesbia, the name believed to have been given by Catullus to his mistress.Lesbia was really Clodia, the sexually promiscuous wife of proconsul QuintusCaecilius Metellus Celer. Clodia was said to have many lovers, and Catullus’torment and obsession for her is well documented in 13 of his poems where thename, Lesbia, is used. His first poem addressed to Lesbia (Catullus 51) is a freetranslation of a poem by the ancient Greek poet, Sappho. Scholars havesuggested that Catullus chose the name, Lesbia, because of his affinity forSappho, who it is believed was a lesbian.

Odie et Amo (Catullus 85), one of the mostcelebrated elegiac couplets composed by Catullus, has inspired many composers withits duality of emotions. The most well-known setting is from Carl Orff’s Catulli Carmina, part of Trionfi, themusical triptych that also includes the Carmina Burana andTrionfo di Afrodite. Unlike Orff’s driving rhythms of outwardlyexpressive anguish, my setting is a more introspective interpretation. It is asif the music is surrendering to the mercurial personalities that Catullus andall humans possess, the tortured ability to hate and love at the same time.

Lesbia mi dicit semper male (Catullus 92) consists of two elegiaccouplets. Catullus’ earlier poem, 83,brings some context to 92. In thefirst part of 83, Catullus says:

Lesbia keeps insulting me in front of her husband:

thisfills the fatuous idiot with delight.

Mule, doyou perceive nothing? If she shut up and ignored me

that’dshow healthy indifference;…

In 92, Catullus expounds on the idea of whyLesbia insults him in front of her husband. Catullus reckons that he is alwayscursing her, and he loves her. She always curses him, so she must love him aswell. In his desperation, Catullus uses his wit and humor to reason that hisobsessive love for Lesbia is reciprocated. This setting of 92 uses incessant driving rhythms in the women’s voices to paint thewords, “Lesbia mi dicit semper male nec tacetumquam de me” (Lesbia always speaks ill of me, never shuts up about me). The repeating rhythmsreturn in the men’s voices when Catullus says he does the same, “quia sunt totidem mea: deprecor illamassidue” (…it’s the same with me: I’m continually complaining.) The piececomes to a final rest after Catullus realizes the he will always be cursed tolove her.

Mea Lesbia (Catullus 87) also consists of twoelegiac couplets. Catullus was only one of Lesbia’s many lovers, and he oftenwrote of his jealousy and disdain for her unfaithful actions. This elegy waswritten at a time when Lesbia had been particularly cruel toward Catullus.Despite being broken hearted, his obsession with her never waned. In hisdespair and desperation, he basically says, “My love for you is so great thatno other woman could possibly even know what love is.” This setting of 87 returns to a more introspectivenature where Catullus surrenders his love forever to Lesbia.


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