De Staat is a seminally important work. So much modern music stems from it, not only “serious” classical music but progressive popular music too. It “is” music theatre, for it’s designed to be experienced live, the visual effect part of the action.
What drives Harrison Birtwistle to Greek myth? Orpheus is a primal archetype. When he played his lyre he tamed wild beasts and made mountains move. But he suffered. He journeyed into Hades but could not bring Eurydice, his beloved, back to life. In some versions of the myth, his talent enraged the jealous who tore him apart. Yet even then, his head remained intact, still singing. He symbolizes the power of music, and the fate of an artist.