Notes & Reviews:
Atalanta Fugiens exudes the air of its time: the steam and stench of the alchemist's laboratory, the echoes of Renaissance choirs, the absorbed attention of the engraver to his copper plate. It is beautiful and strange, and it must be full of meaning, for such labor and learning to have gone into its making. But what is that meaning? The question was a teasing one even to Maier's contemporaries, and four hundred years of 'progress' have not brought us any closer to answering it. Yet one can enjoy and love a work without being able fully to understand it. Art, and that includes Maier's chosen art of alchemy, does not have to be rational in order to give satisfaction. It is sufficient for it to arouse the sense of wonder, the sense of something coming from another level of existence or another order of being. That, after all, is what music regularly does. Although Maier calls his pieces 'fugues' in conformity with the nomenclature of his time (and to echo the book's title), they should not be confused with the fugal form of J. S. Bach and his successors. Today we would define Maier's compositions as two-part canons over a cantus firmus. The form was dictated by the symbolism of the classical myth that inspired him. Briefly stated, it is the tale of the beautiful princess Atalanta, who refused to marry any man who could not outrun her. Many suitors tried and were not only beaten in the athletic sense, but executed. The canny Hippomenes, however, sought the advice of the goddess Aphrodite, who gave him three golden apples. Each time Atalanta drew ahead of him in the race, he rolled one of the apples before her. She could not resist stopping to pick them up, and this enabled Hippomenes to win the race, keep his head, and marry her. However, they did not live happily ever after, because after desecrating the Temple of Cybele by making love therein, the goddess turned them, as punishment, into a pair of lions.Notes & Reviews:
Recording information: St. Margaret's Church, Putney (01/1986).
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Works DetailsMaier, Michael : Atalanta Fugiens, for 3 voices & lute
- Performers: Rufus Müller; Rachel Platt (Soprano); Emily van Evera (Soprano); Richard Wistreich
- Conductor: Richard Wistreich
- Running Time: 1 min. 34 sec.
- Period Time: Renaissance