Oswald’s Tithonus


I have just been entranced by listening to Alice Oswald perform Tithonus on the Echo Chamber. Tithonus was a specially commissioned performance for the Southbank Centre this Autumn and is the account of the babbling, the beautiful babbling, of a very aged Tithonus. In Greek mythology the Dawn fell in love with Tithonus and asked Zeus to make him immortal but forgot to ask for him to remain young. Instead Tithonus grew older and older and, unable to die, was eventually locked in a room by Dawn where he still sits babbling thousands of years on. The performance at the Southbank Centre started in darkness and lasted 46 minutes, the length of a midsummer dawn, gradually growing lighter. In the Echo Chamber Oswald performs a shortened version lasting half an hour. The poems starts quietly but urgently as dawn begins its tight schedule and moves through an account of what could be one or many dawns, it flows with the pressured continuity of babbling and at times uses mesmerising rhythmic repetitions. Oswald’s words are interluded, and occasionally accompanied by, a nyckelharpa: an insect-like, zithery type instrument which is Swedish (and aptly most closely related to the hurry-gurdy). This adds a lovely strangeness to the piece. You have two weeks left to catch it on the BBC Radio iplayer (Echo Chamber episode 4); the work is also available as a pamphlet.


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