Emuria and the Unicorn is the second full length ballet written by Stephen, and is based on a medieval fantasy he wrote himself. Although composed for his daughter’s ballet school, Emuria and the Unicorn was world premiered in British Columbia, shortly followed by the school in Essex. It is a story embodying the age-old conflict between good and evil, and of course, good triumphs in the end. Emuria is the heroine of the plot and the unicorn represents a force for good. The evil side of things is personified in a dragon and his human counterpart – Don Galvier (anagram of evil dragon).
The original ballet was written for piano and a few woodwind instruments, but this suite version has been specially arranged by Stephen for the BHSO. Arranged is a rather loose description as some sections are completely re-composed to suit the ear of a symphonic audience. It is scored for a typical early romantic orchestra with the addition of some extra percussion.
The main characters are supported through leitmotivs first heard in the Prelude. The styles in Emuria are varied, and Stephen employs humour and tongue-in-cheek pastiche from time to time, but the crafting is always sincere and original.
The Prelude – sets the mood of the opening scene in the ballet, a rural village with a forest nearby. The first leitmotiv (horn) represents Herkos – a young hunter, the second (flute) is Emuria, a calm young lady with an affinity for nature and the lore of olde. The prelude leads directly to…
The Polka – a collection of dance styles sandwiched between recurrences of a Tyrolean Peasant dance. In the ballet this is a competition, three girls (Chloette, Emuria, and Carathusia) competing for the honoured position of Queen of the May.
Reel and Pavan – a corps de ballet section in the original ballet. The villagers are dancing an earthy reel but fall into a lethargic stupor (pavan) instigated by the evil Don Galvier. The final scurry depicts Emuria, untouched by the evil, running to find the unicorn.
Wood Nymphs Dance – another corps de ballet sequence. Stephen portrays the wood nymphs not as fluttery fairies but in a perky staccato manner. The more poised legato middle section is a solo for their dignified queen, Bellinia. The flute features prominently in this ternary dance which is directly manifested in the stage ballet, as Bellinia carries a set of panpipes with her to call to or communicate with the unicorn.
Emuria’s Passacaglia, Wood Nymphs Tears & Pleas, the Unicorns magic. Emuria has been accidentally shot by Herkos who was aiming for the unicorn when she threw herself in the way to protect the magical creature. The passacaglia (a ground bass with variations) is Emuria’s solo facing certain death. As she collapses her failing heart-beat is heard in the lower strings and timpani, and the low clarinet solo represents her soul leaving her body (based on her leitmotiv). The following brass chorale (Bb minor) is for the wood nymphs that plead with the unicorn to use his magic to help the stricken girl. The music swells as the unicorn dips his horn in a chalice of water and once administered Emuria begins to recover as the music settles into the peaceful key of E major.
Valse Rondo – A foot-tapping waltz finale in modified rondo form for the whole company with a bit of plot mime thrown in for good measure! Listen out again for those leitmotivs, a momentary hint at the Wood Nymph theme, and the stereo, across the orchestra, antiphonies in the orchestration. The waltz ends nice and loud!
Stephen graduated from Trinity College of Music and was also conferred a fellowship in 1975. Further post-graduate studies and research ensued, including gaining a diploma in education, at Birmingham University. From 1976 to 1983 he lived in Burgess Hill co-founding the Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra, then called the Martlets Sinfonietta. Stephen has led a life as performer, teacher, conductor and composer and he presently lectures at the University of Essex and conducts their student orchestra. He has a daughter who is following in the performing arts vein – she studies ballet, flute and piano.
Programme notes for BHSO performance, May 2008
Written by Linda Moonie
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