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Stafford & Benjamin Abstract

 ‘I shall sing of Herakles’: writing a Hercules oratorio for the twenty-first century

Emma Stafford and Tim Benjamin

This chapter documents the process of composing and producing a new dramatic musical work based on the Greek hero Herakles and reflects upon the reception of the work to date.

Tim Benjamin’s Herakles was composed in consultation with a classical advisor and premiered by Todmorden Choral Society and Orchestra, with a number of professional soloists, in April 2017. The setting for this premiere was the magnificent Neoclassical town hall of Todmorden, a small Pennine mill town on the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire in the north of England. The performance was filmed, an edited version receiving its first public screening at the University of Leeds in July 2017, and being subsequently made available on DVD.  Of particular interest from an academic point of view is the composer’s decision to set the Prodikean ‘Choice’ story, rather than any of the other Heraklean themes available, and then to follow the relatively unfamiliar version by Dio Chrysostom, in his Discourse on Kingship, which makes Virtue and Vice into the specifically political ‘virtue’ of Royalty and ‘vice’ of Tyranny. The chapter will consider this decision, and the ways in which Benjamin went on to adapt the story for a twenty-first century audience, and to incorporate other ancient texts – including quotations for the Odyssey and the Homeric Hymn to Herakles – in the light of the history of dramatic musical treatments of Heraklean stories.