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He is more than a hero
by Susie Vaughan

Inspiration for this piece came from Toby Carr’s introduction to the Theorbo in the first workshop session, with its origins in the Ancient Greek storyteller accompanying themselves on the lyre, and from a desire to re-enchant the past. With that in mind, I chose one of Sappho’s most famous and beguiling lyric love poems, Fragment 31, as the text.


The mise en scène is a triptych of three musical ‘panels’. The first depicts the ‘epithalamium’ or wedding song setting – where The Speaker (Soprano 1) deifies the Hero (conjured by Lute and Theorbo) by virtue of his sitting next to The Beloved (Soprano 2). The second conveys the sensation of losing the power of speech: ‘my tongue is broken’. The third uses the giddy metaphor of the musical merry-go-round and sonic musical imagery, to express: skin burning, seeing nothing, ears drumming, sweat dripping, body trembling and turning ‘paler than dry grass’. Certain lines of the text are sung in the original Ancient Greek.




Susie Vaughan trained as a composer at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (MMus, Lutoslawski Prize – 2nd Prize), after a BMus at Royal Holloway and British Academy Award for postgraduate research at Magdalen College, Oxford. Her music is in an eclectic Classical Crossover genre – influenced by film, folk, cabaret, circus, jazz and historical musical styles. Special commissions include: a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for Magdalen College Choir to celebrate 20 years of women at the College and the first woman ever to compose for the Choir in 550 years; incidental music for Creation Theatre Company; Ariel for The London Contemporary Dance School; reconstruction and composition of the missing third of The Lord Hayes’ Masque for The Convocation House, Bodleian Library, Castle Ashby, and Sotheby’s New York.

He is more than a hero

SAPPHO of Mytiléne (c.630-550BC).

Fragment 31: He is more than a hero

Translated by Mary Barnard (Last 2 lines by Anne Carson)


Triptych Panel 1

Phainetai moi kênos îsos theoisin – (He is a god in my eyes –)

He is a god in my eyes –

the man who is allowed

to sit beside you – he


who listens intimately

to the sweet murmur of

your voice, the enticing


laughter that makes my own heart beat fast.


Triptych Panel 2

If I meet you suddenly, I can’t

speak – my tongue is broken;


Triptych Panel 3

a thin flame runs under

my skin; seeing nothing,


hearing only my own ears

drumming, I drip with sweat;

trembling shakes my body


and I turn paler than dry grass.

At such timesdeath isn’t far from me


Alla pan tolmaton epei kai penêta… (But all is to be dared, even for a person of poverty…)


Emmi tethnakên d’oligô ‘pideuês

Phainom’ em’ autai  (At such times death isn’t far from me)

At such times death isn’t far from me


Emmi tethnakên d’oligô ‘pideuês

Phainom’ em’ autai  (At such times death isn’t far from me)


Phainetai moi kênos îsos theoisin – (He is a god in my eyes –)

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