this weekend I heard the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra play Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred Symphony,” something I’d never heard before, and indeed, had never heardof. I would like to point out that the orchestra included 2 harpists, a gong and a tubular bell, 4 french horns, pipe organ, and 7 — seven! — double basses. It was rockin’.
The piece is relevant to us because it is a thematic composition based on George Gordon, Lord Byron’s (1788-1824) closet drama of the same name. A closet drama is a poetic piece that is written in dramatic form, with different characters, dialogue, etc., but no stage directions. It is intended for a dramatic stage reading, not full-fledged play production. A british literature professor I spoke to told me that’s a shame, because it is extremely mopey and boring. But, she went on to explain, the piece is important because it’s sort of the chief exemplar of the Byronic hero–the struggling, tortured soul wandering in a wilderness that echoes his desolated mind, seeking wisdom or lost love or whatever his fate drives him toward. In Manfred’s case, lost love, forgetfulness, and, ultimately, death.
Manfred’s dialogue is in blank verse, which any high school junior will tell you is unrhymed iambic pentameter, and Shakespeare’s medium. He summons some spirits, eventually seven of them, and they speak to him in various arrangements of rhymed lines. Overall, this poem suits our goal of running several rhymed, “poem-looking” poems, although I’m only going to reprint the first snippet of Manfred’s invocation, in Act I, Scene I. The scene: he’s camped in a desolate cave, high in the Swiss Alps… -ed.