Marcos Balter: Æsopica (2011)

  • Performance Date: 2011
  • Season: 2010-11
  • Series: ICElab, MCA Chicago
  • Composer Name: Marcos Balter
  • Composer Dates: b. 1974
  • Composer URL:
  • Premiere Region: World Premiere
  • Precise Instrumentation: flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, tuba, piano, 2 violins, cello, percussion, soprano, guitar

Watch a video of Marcos Balter discussing Æsopica here.

I. Prologue (voice, bass flute, bass clarinet, horn, tuba, and piano)

What from the founder Aesop fell,
In neat familiar verse I tell:
Twofold's the genius of the page,
To make you smile and make you sage.
But if the critics we displease,
By wrangling brutes and talking trees,
Let them remember, ere they blame,
We're working neither sin nor shame;
'Tis but a play to form the youth
By fiction, in the cause of truth.

II. Overture (alto flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, tuba, guitar, percussion, and piano)

III. The Fly and the Mule (voice, flute, clarinet, bassoon, voice, percussion)

A fly lands on the back of a mule, and annoyed with the slow pace of the ride protests: “Faster with the cart, or I’ll bite you ‘till you smart!” The mule, who had not even noticed the fly until its hissy fit, looks back and replies: "Why should I care about the threats of a fly when the rider on top of the cart is the one with the reins and a whip?"

IV. Dialogue I (horn and guitar)

V. The Mountain in Labor (voice & piano)

All gathered to see the mountain in labor, and then as quick as it came, it went away. And from the top of the mountain, a tiny little mouse emerged.

VI. The Wind and The Sun (voice, flute, clarinet, bassoon, percussion)

The Wind and the Sun had a bet,
The wayfarers' cloak which should get:
Blew the Wind, the cloak clung;
Shone the Sun, the cloak flung
Showed the Sun had the best of it yet.

VII. Dialogue II (percussion and tuba)

VIII. The Rabbit and The Dog (voice, flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, tuba, guitar, percussion, piano, violins I & II, cello)

A dog startled a rabbit from its lair. But, after a long chase, it gave up. "Looks like the little one is the best runner of the two," said a nearby goat. The dog replied: "There is a big difference between us. I was only running for dinner, but the rabbit was running for its life."

XIV. Interlude (flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, tuba, guitar, percussion, piano, mandolin, violin, cello)

X. The Boastful Lamp (voice, alto flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, tuba, guitar, percussion, piano)

Drunk in its own oil and crazed by its fumes, the boastful lamp decides to outshine the sky. Not the moon, not the sun, not all stars in the galaxy, nothing, no one, no light could match its power. Its flame grew taller, and mightier, and bolder, until its gleam engulfed all other lights. But, with each new jolt of light, its burner grew drier and drier. When all the oil was gone, the fire quickly died away, and night was dark again, as before.

XI. Dialogue III (bass flute & piano)

XII. The Cicada and the Ant (voice, bass flute, clarinet, tuba, voice, guitar, percussion)

The cicada sang during the whole summer, but the ants kept working hard everyday gathering food for winter, and then it came. The cicada, starving to death and freezing cold, frantically knocks on the ants’ door. "Thank goodness you are home, my friends! Would you please help a poor creature in need of food and shelter?" The ants, not a bit amused, reply while blocking the door: "If we remember correctly, you were busy with your singing while we worked hard storing food during summer. Well now, my friend, dance!”

XIII. Dialogue IV (bass clarinet and bassoon)

XIV. The Caged Bird and The Bat (voice, violins I and II, cello)

A bird confined in a cage outside a window had a way of singing while all other birds were asleep. When a curious bat asked him why, the bird explained: "It was when I was singing in the daylight that I was caught, and since then I've only sung by night." To which the bat said: "Had you done so before you were caught, you might still had been free. But, what's the point now?"

XV. The Fox and The Grapes (voice, piccolo, e-flate clarinet, bassoon, horn, tuba, piano)

This Fox has a longing for grapes:
He jumps, but the bunch still escapes.
So he goes away sour;
And, 'tis said, to this hour
Declares that he's no taste for grapes.

XVII. Epilogue (voice, bass flute, bass clarinet, horn, bassoon, tuba, percussion, piano)

A statue of great cost and fame
The Athenians raised to Aesop's name,
Him sitting on the eternal base,
Whom servile rank could not disgrace;
That they might teach to all mankind
The way to honor's unconfined,
That glory's due to rising worth,
And not alone to pomp and birth.

Composer's Notes

I have always loved storytelling as an art form as it truly reminds me of what a good music performance should be: an oral/aural tradition in which performers are expected to not only pass on learned information but also to color it or even add to it. That was my main inspiration while writing Æsopica (2011), which is based on fables attributed to Æsop (Greece, ca. 620-564 BC), who is perhaps the most universally acclaimed storyteller in history. The fact Æsop’s existence remains unproven and that all there is left are versions of his fables as retold by others immediately grabbed my imagination while writing this work. As a result, the work’s text is my own adaptation of fables as told by multiple sources, from prestigious figures such as Phaedrus to several anonymous documentations of modernized versions throughout history. Though loosely based on ancient Greek dramaturgy, Æsopica is intended for today’s audience both in tone and in content. Ultimately, this work is an homage to Æsop’s timeless relevance.