The Laurel Tree —1996

The Laurel Tree was commissioned by Bart Feller and Kathleen Nester, who premiered the work with pianist Linda Mark at the 1996.

National Flute Association Convention in New York City.


  1. Separation: The World Splitting in Two
  2. Initiation: The Deep Inner Sea
  3. Return: The Wounded Healers

Program Notes

The Laurel Tree is rooted in the world of mythology, for it reflects the legend of Daphne and Apollo. As the story goes, Cupid, in a fit of spite, shot Apollo with an arrow that rouses love, then shot Daphne with an arrow that vanquishes love. Upon seeing Daphne, Apollo fell passionately in love. When he approached her, Daphne fled in terror, and Apollo chased after her. Just as she was about to be caught by Apollo, Daphne cried for help to her father, the river-god Peneus. She begged him to change her, to destroy her beauty, so that Apollo would no longer pursue her. And so, Peneus turned her into a radiant laurel tree.

The Laurel Tree looks at the legend of Daphne in psychological terms. In an essay titled “Schizophrenia—the Inward Journey”, Joseph Campbell refers to the image of Daphne turning into a laurel tree as the image of a psychosis, and shows that the imagery of the mythological hero journey matches that of schizophrenic fantasy. The movement titles and the structure of the piece are influenced by Campbell’s writings on mythology, particularly his universal formula of the hero’s journey. The first movement is based on the legend as described above, up to the moment Daphne is turned into a laurel tree. The second movement explores Daphne’s inward retreat, deep into her psyche and backward in time, toward chaotic and terrifying experiences, to recover something missed or lost. The third movement tracks Daphne ‘s return journey of rebirth to life, in harmony, at peace, richer, stronger, and more joyous.


This is a major contemporary work in three contrasting, programmatic movements entitled Separation: The World Splitting in Two; Initiation: The Deep Inner Sea; and Return: The Wounded Healers. This work was commissioned by flutists Bart Feller and Kathleen Nester, who premiered it at the National Flute Association Convention in August 1996. The title refers to the mythological legend of Daphne and Apollo, where Daphne is changed into a laurel tree to prevent the amorous pursuits of Apollo. Musical references to specific events in the legend are indicated throughout the score. The work is in a traditional style, and except for the jet whistle in the first movement, uses no contemporary effects. The flute parts are equal in difficulty and interest.

Flute Talk, January 1, 2000

When heard at Rutgers this past spring, flutists Bart Feller and Kathleen Nester and pianist Linda Mark presented the first movement only, “The World Splitting in Two”, of a work in progress by Robert Maggio. The now complete work, entitled “The Laurel Tree”, is a programmatic work which treats the Daphne and Apollo myth. What was heard in the work-in-progress phase was a retelling of the myth itself: Cupid shoots an arrow into Apollo so he will love who he first sees. Cupid shoots an arrow into Daphne which makes her fear who she first sees. She and Apollo first see each other. The inevitable pursuit and flight lead to Daphne turning into a laurel tree, thus becoming the stuff of monographs by Karl Jung and Joseph Campbell…

…And Maggio. For the final two movements performed on Tuesday deal with elements not part of the original myth. ‘The Deep Inner Sea’ takes us into the experience of Daphne as she becomes earth-bound, curling roots into a single place, living connected to the soil.

Maggio asks the flutists to produce a wide variety of effects, drooping sounds falling off-pitch, flutter tongues, and multi-phonics. Mark [the pianist] at times stood up and played low resonant bass tones inside the piano with her fingers. This was no calming Bhuddist “Om” evocation. For Maggio, the inward search of Daphne and by extension the audience, is scary, filled with eerie night- music, whispers, and whimpers.

The third movement, “The Wounded Healers”, brings Daphne back to a real world wearing the mantle of wisdom, the wisdom of seeing herself and the world anew. The instruments imitate each other, creating a mythic space in which echoes exist not so much in the acoustic of the hall but in the mind of the listener. Without it being a theater-piece, there is something theatric about the work: it looked along with sounding well. Feller, Nester, and Mark, for whom it was composed, have in their hands an extremely evocative work I should like to hear again.

Paul Somers, Classical New Jersey, November 27, 1996