Vivian Fine





Song of Persephone for Solo Viola




9 minutes


Solo viola


August 6, 1968, Lenox, Massachusetts, Berkshire Chamber Players Concert, Jacob Glick, viola


Available on demo CD

program notes

The legend described the grief of Kore at her abduction by Hades, King of Tartarus. It describes too the grief of her mother, Demeter, who sought Kore for 9 days and nights, calling fruitlessly all the while. As the bride of Hades Persephone is the goddess of destruction who sends specters, rules the ghosts and carries into effect the curses of men. In the Spring Persephone is freed from the bowels of the earth and restored to Demeter. The 3rd section of the piece reflect the triadic character of the legend.

–Composer’s Note to the Score


In 1964 Fine wrote Song of Persephone for Solo Viola, which was premiered by Jacob Glick, the violist at Bennington. In turning to Greek legend as an inspiration for her music, Fine was still under the influence of Martha Graham, and this was the first time that Fine chose a distinctly feminine theme – the tragedy of the young maiden Persephone and her mother, Demeter. Personally, Fine was experiencing a loss because both daughters, who by this time were young women, had left home, and although she did not think of her compositions as ways of relieving her own emotion stress, she did state that her writing was “a kind of diary.” Later Fine would write about overtly feminine concerns, such as her operas Women in the Garden and the Memoirs of Uliana Rooney. Meanwhile she used the challenge of the musical means of a solo viola to express this tragedy. The piece is through-composed. The first section, “Adagio, with intense expressiveness,” is Persephone’s anguished song. Long descending lines and sudden ascending leaps emphasized by grace notes or sweeping arpeggiated figures reflect the intensity of her horror.
     Demeter’s rage is portrayed by an “Allegro, with bombastic, flamboyant exaggeration and rhythmic elasticity.” Although she uses some of her daughter’s musical gestures, such as that ascending grace-note leaps, Demeter’s song is a perpetuum mobile reflecting her frustrated and futile search.
     The tensions are released in the last short “tranquillo” section, which portrays springtime, when Persephone returns to Demeter. The long graceful legato lines are a contrast to the previous agitation. Although Fine chose a Greek myth as the inspiration for her piece, its subject matter is contemporary. Reports about abducted and raped daughters are frequent items in the press and media, and Fine’s music portrays the emotional horror of these tragedies.

–Heidi Von Gunden, The Music of Vivian Fine, Scarecrow Press, 1999

audio files

Song of Persephone for Solo Viola