The Encantadas

  • September 9, 1983
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Based on the writings of Herman Melville

Narration available in English, German, Spanish and Japanese


Commissioned: Northeast Orchestral Consortium

Premiere: October 1983, Albany Symphony Orchestra, Michael Arkin, narrator.

European premiere: April 30, 1993, Orquesta Sinfonica de RTVE, Sergiu Comissiona/conductor, Rafael Taibo/narrator, Teatro Monumental (Madrid).



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I. Dream II. Desolation III. Delusion IV. Diversity V. Din VI. Dawn


Duration: 30’


Publisher: Schott Helicon Music Corporation (BMI)



The Encantadas

Sir John Gielgud, narrator; Christoph Eschenbach, conductor; Houston Symphony Orchestra


For audio of translated versions, please click the "Media/Versions" tab above.



sessionsmThe Encantadas was commissioned by the Albany Academy in celebration of their 175th anniversary, and premiered by the Albany Symphony Orchestra with Michael Arkin as Narrator, conducted by Julius Hegyi, on October 14 and 15, 1983, at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and the Albany Palace Theatre. It has been recorded with English, German and Japanese narration (by Sir John Gielgud, Will Quadfleg, and Mariko Miyagi, respectively), performed in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Japanese, and translated into Rumanian.


In 1986, the work was adapted for chamber orchestra, to accompany the choreographic premiere.


The text was drawn from Herman Melville's vivid and poetic descriptions of the Galapagos Islands, originally written for Collier's Magazine. Melville visited the Galapagos in 1841, as part of a whaling voyage he undertook to gather background material for Moby Dick. Struck by the islands' fierce beauty and strange inhabitants, Melville wrote a series of literary sketches which were ultimately published in Collier's. Herman Melville is the Albany Academy's most famous graduate.


By setting Melville's prose as narrative with music, Picker resuscitated the nineteenth-century genre of melodrama. Contrary to its sensational and dramatic connotation in today's world, melodrama was a legitimate artistic venture in the nineteenth century. It mingled the spoken word, and sometimes song, with independent music. Many twentieth-century composers have adapted the narrative concept: Stravinsky's L'histoire du soldat (1918), Walton's Façade (1926), Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf (1936) and Copland's Lincoln Portrait (1942) immediately come to mind. With The Encantadas, Picker has added a proud companion to those distinguished ranks.


gielgud2smThe Encantadas consists of six movements, each of which evokes a different picture of life in the islands' ecuatorial wilderness. In fact, this is unabashedly pictorial music. Picker capitalizes on the enchantment implicit in Melville's title and so richly developed in the narration, aptly probing the sinister undercurrent that emerges from the text. For example, at the first mention of "evilly enchanted ground," an orchestral outburst brings the malaise dramatically to the foreground. By drawing on the varied timbres of an expanded percussion section, Picker describes in sound the eerie, quasi-magical atmosphere of a venue untouched by civilization.


His series of bird portraits in movements IV and V is particularly wonderful. There are touches of humor, for example in the sultry Viennese waltz accorded to the ungainly penguins, and of mystery, in the somber piano solo that illustrates pelicans. No less effective is the cacophony of birds in the fith section, Din. Picker regards the concluding section, Dawn, as an epiphany, bringing The Encantadas to a quiet and emotionally affecting close. Throughout this brilliantly hued half-hour musical canvas, Picker's imagination, literary sensitivity and orchestral skill engross the listener as much as Melville's splendid words.


Program note drawn from several sources, including, most prominently, Laurie Shulman's program note, © 1995.


The Encantadas has been recorded by the Houston Symphony, with Christoph Eschenbach as conductor, on the Virgin Classic

The New Yorker - Andrew Porter

"Picker's The Encantadas is also a picturesque work, but a rich one that I've now heard several times with pleasure. It lasts about half an hour, and it's for speaker and orchestra -- a combination that is seldom successful but is here brought off. At the second performance, in Springfield, Picker himself recited the text, with inflections and timing that made it seem part of the composition, not a distraction. The words are descriptive passages from Melville's Piazza Tale, telling of the mysterious islands' desolation, of the ponderous tortoises, of Rock Rodondo, rising towerlike from the sea, with its tiered population of birds. The six movements are entitled Dream, Desolation, Delusion, Diversity, Din, and Dawn. Melville's charged prose spins exotic metaphors of the human condition; Prospero, Caliban, and Ariel seem not far away. Picker responds with romantic, colorful music. His materials are conventional, often Mahlerian in cut; his use of them is fresh and imaginative."



The New York Times - Bernard Holland

"...Melville's birds are made to whirl and swoop in sound with great pictorial effect, and the tidal ebbs and flows surge ominously...Indeed, it should appeal to most kinds of listeners..."



St. Paul Star Tribune - Michael Anthony

"American composer Tobias Picker's strange visit to a strange land, The Encantadas, has had quite a run in the Twin Cities in its various versions... Scored for speaker and orchestra, Picker's The Encantadas ("Enchanted Islands") draws its text — and title — from Herman Melville's recollections of his 1841 voyage to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. What Melville saw and described so vividly was nature run amok — nature at its biggest and boldest and ultimately its most mysterious.


"Picker composed the piece for the Albany (N.Y.) Symphony Orchestra, which premiered it in 1983. Then the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra asked the composer for a version for small orchestra, and that was first performed here in 1986 but in two versions, one for speaker and orchestra and the other, without speaker, as a dance piece choreographed by Linda Shapiro for the New Dance Ensemble. The Chamber Orchestra gave two live performances with dancers, and then later the dancers performed it in their own season with the orchestra on tape.


"Cast in six sections and running about 30 minutes, The Encantadas starts out in a kind of post-minimalist idiom — steady pulse and shimmering woodwinds and chimes — but then moves on to a frenzied waltz in the manner of Ravel's "La Valse" and evolves in the final section into gentle, consoling passages underscoring the narration. Much of this is evocative, and what it evokes isn't nature so much as Melville's often highly emotional reaction to what he sees — perhaps a wise decision on the composer's part.


"[Narrator Michael] Steinberg infused the text with just the right tone of wonder and awe that we feel in Melville's observations."



The New Haven Register - Scott Burnham

"The concert opened with Picker's new work for narrator and orchestra, The Encantadas, with the composer narrating. Picker based his highly accessible music on several passages from Melville's poetic description of life on the Galapagos Islands. Characterized by animated rhythmic work alternating with lush passages of post-Romantic harmony, Picker's islands seem like an interesting place to visit, a place where penguins listen to Mahler and pelicans brood moodily at the piano."



Knickerbocker News (Albany, NY) - David Formanek

"The high point was the world premiere of Tobias Picker's The Encantadas, a suite with readings from a work by Herman Melville. The work was commissioned by the Albany Academy, which Melville attended. The composer was in attendance and later acclaimed by the audience."



The Times Record (Troy, NY) - Robin Purvin

"The concert featured the premiere of Tobias Picker's The Encantadas, a piece written for narrator and orchestra, based on Melville's work of the same name...The orchestra'sopening notes gave an immediate sensation of swelling seas, from rhythmic sweep of waves to torrential storm.


"Picker created a mood of isolation, of strange and far-away places, and even of remote wonder, beautifully echoing Melville's own words."



Schenectady Gazette - Bill Rice

"Picker's musical score is extremely graphic. The work is well orchestrated and shows great promise on the part of the composer, who is fast becoming recognized as one of the leading young symphonic writers in the country."



Times Union (Albany, NY) - Scott Cantrell

"The world premiere of Tobias Picker's The Encantadas, commissioned by the Albany Academy, figured prominently in Friday's Albany Symphony Orcestra concert, opening the orchestra's current season.


"The new work, based on the eponymous short novel of Herman Melville, was dramatic and evocative, and fluently wrought.


"The music was cleverly matched: dessicated in the second of the six movements ("Desolation"), surging and clashing in the third ("Delusion") and fifth ("Din"), alternatively tender and whimsical in the fourth ("Diversity").


"Stylistically, it was unabashedly eclectic, a wry waltz accompanying the description of the ungainly penguins, a Prokofievian piano interlude evoking the pensive pelicans. And the finale could only have been written by someone who knew Respighi."


The Encantadas

Sir John Gielgud, narrator; Christoph Eschenbach, conductor; Houston Symphony Orchestra


Las Encantadas (Spanish)

Rafael Taibo, narrator; Orquesta Sinfónica de RTVE; Sergiu Comissiona, conductor


Die Encantadas (German)

Will Quadfleg, narrator; Christoph Eschenbach, conductor; Houston Symphony Orchestra


The Encantadas (Japanese)

Mariko Miyagi, narrator; Christoph Eschenbach, conductor; Houston Symphony Orchestra

for narrator and orchestra

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