Camille Saint-Saëns

Le Rouet d'Omphale, symphonic poem in A major, Op. 31

    Description by James Reel

    Three of Saint-Saëns' four tone poems are inspired by Greek mythology and two have to do with the hero Hercules. The first of the series, Le Rouet d'Omphale (Omphale's Spinning Wheel), finds Hercules in temporary exile, dressed in women's clothes and working as a maid for the Lydian queen Omphale. The composer did not write a detailed musical narrative linked to the story; instead, this is more of an atmosphere piece, its inspiration derived from three quite different aesthetic experiences Saint-Saëns had in close succession: reading a Victor Hugo poem about Omphale, seeing a beautiful ebony spinning wheel in a friend's home, and admiring a sensuous painting of Venus in the studio of the painter Cabanel. "The basic idea of Le Rouet d'Omphale," the composer wrote, "is voluptuousness." Saint-Saëns provided a description of the tone poem: "The subject of this work is feminine seduction, the victorious struggle of weakness against strength. The spinning wheel is only a pretext, chosen solely from the point of view of the general style and movement of the piece. Hercules surprises Omphale spinning wool at her wheel and tries to win her by the story of his exploits. She laughs at this strength, having as her single weapon of defense her great beauty. Through the witchery of her charm, she vanquishes Hercules and compels him to spin at her feet." The music depicts the wheel with whirling string and woodwind figures and eventually, a melody and rhythm of jerky duplets, perhaps suggesting the spinner's use of a foot pedal. This music expands and fills out, but soon, though the spinning-wheel rhythm never relents, a new, sweeping, and ominous theme develops in relation to Hercules. This subsides, the music pauses, and then the oboe and other woodwinds introduce a light, mocking melody derived from Omphale's music. The spinning wheel material returns, now in even more sparkling orchestration; aside from another sarcastic visit from the oboe, this music holds until the end. Each of these episodes follows a crescendo-decrescendo pattern and the tone poem as a whole can be heard as such, rising from quiet, hesitant string and flute notes, climaxing with the Hercules episode, and receding to a closing passage that is high, soft, and thinly scored -- the final thread spun from Omphale's wheel.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Nimbus Records NI 5940
    2016 Praga PRD 250340
    2015 Erato 0825646154975
    2015 Naxos 8573139
    2014 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Decca 4785437
    2012 Nimbus NI 6188
    2012 Chandos CHSA 5104
    2011 Music & Arts MA 1255
    2011 Cascavelle 3136
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Timpani / Zebralution
    2008 EMI Classics 3799862
    2007 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2007 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946379985
    2007 Apex
    2006 Decca 000771602
    2005 ARS / Ars Produktion 38008
    2004 EMI Classics 585210
    2004 Universal Classics 000173602
    2003 EMI Classics
    2002 BBC Legends / BBC Music 41132
    2000 Ivory Records IC70907
    2000 Dutton Laboratories 5026
    1999 London 448571
    1999 Pearl 9474
    1999 Angel Records / Warner Classics 7243573430
    1998 Teldec 3984 24236-2
    1998 RCA 902668978
    1997 Naxos 8 556675
    1996 London 443033
    1996 Naxos 8553245
    1993 RCA 61400
    1993 Denon Records 75024
    1993 Naxos 8550138
    1991 London 425021
    1988 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0777769112
    1986 London 414460
    Brilliant Classics 8635/67
    Naxos 8550138
    DG Deutsche Grammophon 4000702
    Timpani 4024
    Pickwick 11026
    Mastersound 17
    Ades 20347
    EMI Music Distribution 47477
    EMI Music Distribution 69833
    Apex 89244
    Erato 55001