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Luís Vaz de Camões (1524-1580) is the greatest Portuguese poet of the Renaissance. In 1572, he published his masterpiece, the Lusiads (Os Lusiadas), a vast epic poem which relates the history of Portugal, and especially Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India (1497-1498). My only ambition was to prolong Camões’s poetic universe, which can be lyrical, unreal and nostalgic all at the same time. The oboe is treated in an experimental and almost symphonic way.
I - The King of Mélinde The King of Mélinde's fleet (nowadays Malindi, in Kenya) welcomes Vasco da Gama’s in jubilation. (canto II stanzas 73-113). The abundance of motifs, effects, and special fingerings imitates the cannons, the fireworks, the exhilaration of the crowd and the “discordant uproar” of the fanfare bursting out of each barge and boat. Everything here must bubble over with joy. Two continents, two people, two cultures celebrate each other in a dazzling light.
II - Lost by hunger Delirium of the sailors, overwhelmed by hunger, thirst and scurvy. (canto IV stanzas 70-71 et 81-83) A totally motionless sea, and crushing heat. Without any transition, the frenzy of the first movement is replaced by disease and death. One recognizes the fanfares, but now they are only fragments. Lullabies from childhood come to haunt the agonised men.
Interlude 1 - The old man of the Restelo In Lisbon, nine months earlier, in front of the ships ready to weigh anchor, an old man had stood up to condemn the craving for glory and the barbarity of men, disguised under the name of bravery. He had told the sailors of the great ordeals ahead. (canto IV stanzas 94-104) The memory of those curses (in enigmatic, blurred, and distant chords) mix with the lullabies of the preceding movement.
III - The waterspout The terror of the sailors faced with a waterspout, a phenomenon unknown to them. (canto V stanzas 18-22) A true catharsis bursts out at the “furioso” and resolves itself very gradually. The oboe, here more than anywhere else, exceeds its normal limits. Interlude 2 This episode does not appear in Camões’s text. After the passing of the waterspout, the curses of the old man float again across the boat and are even more solemn.
IV - The island of Love Venus has kept for the brave survivors, the discoverers of India, an enchanting island, populated with nymphs. (canto IX stanzas 38-89) Here is evoked, not the flirtation of the sailors and the nymphs, but the teeming mystery of the island. Man has abandoned any material ambition. He is at one with the world.