WILLIAM BILLINGS (1746-1800) was America's first major composer. publishing 126 original pieces in The New England Psalm Singer, or American Chorister in 1770. He was a patriot of the Revolutionary Era (as shown by his lyrics to the immensely popular Chester, which is still sung at football games) and friend of Sam Adams and Paul Revere.
Boston-born Billings learned to read music at a typical New England singing school where the thirty hymns brought to the Colonies were taught note by note, slowed, and improvised on at a shout; he later conducted such schools himself. Though his music follows from British models of the 16th century, his "anthems, fuges and chorus's" partake of his intense belief in composition as an act of self-expression, and of his own eccentricities: he was a misshapen man with a stentorian voice, many children and an enormous appetite for snuff.
After publishing five further collections of works which became widely known in Europe as well as the U.S. but were not protected by copyright laws, Billings died impoverished. His music was disavowed by the next generation for the greater polish of European stylists.
David's Lamentation is from Billings' second collection The Singing Master's Assistant (1778); China (1801) was written by hatter and Revolutionary fifer, Timothy Swan. The anonymous Ocean (1787-90) concerns shipwrecks, a favorite theme of the era. Revere engraved the lyrics of Chester around the rim of a salad bowl. Complaint by the obscure composer Parmeter, is a New England version of the plainchant text "Kyrie eleison" or "Lord have mercy on us". Billings' anthem I am the Rose of Sharon (1778) sets verse from the Song of Solomon.
I AM THE ROSE OF SHARON
KITTY BRAZELTON is a composer (D.M.A. Columbia University 1994), improviser, rock-mezzo and multi-instrumentalist who rejoices in infusing vernacular American dialects into deep, complex structures. Her full-length opera Fireworks, commissioned by American Opera Projects, concerns an extraterrestrial discovering the 4th of July, and incorporates Caribbean rhythmic motifs, r & b and classic recitative.. She leads exploded rock bands (her second CD with the nonet DADADAH, Love Not Love Lust Not Lust, was hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as an "album of impressive nerve") and composes dynamic orchestral works (Sleeping Out of Doors (1998), her piano concerto commissioned and premiered by conductor Kristjan Järvi's Absolute Ensemble, featured rock voice, electric bass and amplified classical guitar). Her chamber music ranges from the N.Y.S.C.A.-commissioned cyber-punk fantasia 5 dreams; marriage (premiered by her unique quartet WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A BAT? at Sound Symposium 2000 in Newfoundland) to innovative works for the Manhattan Brass Quintet and the California EAR Unit (heard on her forthcoming CRI Emergency album, due in fall 2001). Throughout all, she champions a return to the universal nature of music.
EDWARD KENNEDY "DUKE" ELLINGTON (1899-1974), celebrated as the greatest composer and bandleader in jazz, in recent years has been considered America's most accomplished, popular and enduring composer regardless of genre distinctions. Originally a pianist in Washington, D.C. dance bands, he maintained an orchestra of improvising virtuosi, touring relentlessly and recording prodigiously from the mid 1920's until his death. He wed elements of African-American blues, ragtime and commercial Tin Pan Alley songwriting in an original repertoire of dramatic themes and concise variations, by mid-career expanding into concertos, suites and soundtracks.
Brazelton has arranged "Solitude," among Ellington's best known works, for BOG LIFE by combining aspects of his 1934 and 1957 versions. Following the Ken Rattenbury transcriptions, she adapted "Mr. J. B. Blues" (1940), a duet Ellington performed on piano with innovative double bassist Jimmy Blanton, and "Junior Hop" (1940), a feature for alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges.
"Libby plays the Hodges solo," Brazelton explains. "I assigned myself Cootie Williams' trumpet line, and John sings the trombone part played by Lawrence Brown. Chris combines things Ellington did on piano and things Sonny Greer played on drums. Jay has a conventional bass part, but Elizabeth carries Harry Carney's baritone saxophone part on harp."
JAY ELFENBEIN lives with his family uptown, composes, teaches and plays everywhere and everything including his special fave early-music ensemble, Ivory Consort. Jay set a famous poem about spring and insect life as a song cycle for Bog Life into 1993.
SIGMUND FREUD's 1910 essay, Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, inspired choreographer Eduardo Zeiger to commission the following musical setting from composer Kitty Brazelton for Zeiger's A Memory of Bliss which premiered at the Cunningham Studio, February 14, 1993. Excerpts outline a childhood experience recounted by Da Vinci and central to Freud's analysis, though Freud mistranslated the Italian nibbio for kite as "vulture," seriously undermining the credibility of his thesis.
In reality Leonardo was not devoid of passion. He had merely converted his passion into a thirst for knowledge.
"'..great love springs from great knowledge of the beloved object, and if you know it but little you will be able to love it only a little or not at all..."
His affects were controlled and subjected to the instinct for research. It is doubtful whether Leonardo ever embraced a woman in passion. When he had become a Master, he surrounded himself with handsome boys and youths whom he took as pupils. We may take it as probable that Leonardo's affectionate relations with the young men who...shared his existence did not extend to sexual activity.
"The act of procreation and everything connected with it is so disgusting that mankind would soon die out if it were not an old-established custom and if there were not pretty faces and sensuous natures."
"It seems that I was always destined to be so deeply concerned with vultures; for I recall as one of my earliest memories that while I was in my cradle a vulture came down to me, and opened my mouth with its tail, and struck me many times with its tail against my lips."
A tail,coda,is one of the most familiar symbols and substitutive expressions for the male organ, in Italian no less than in other languages; the situation in the phantasy, of a vulture opening the child's mouth and beating about inside it vigorously with its tail, corresponds to the idea of an act of fellatio...
About Leonardo's youth we know very little. He was born in 1452 in the little town of Vinci between Florence and Empoli; he was an illegitimate child, which in those days was certainly not considered a grave social stigma; his father was Ser Piero da Vinci, a notary and descended from a family of notaries and farmers who took their name from the locality of Vinci; his mother was a certain Caterina, probably a peasant girl...
In reality Leonardo was not devoid of passion...
"While I was in my cradle a vulture came down to me---"
He had merely converted his passion into a thirst for knowledge...
"and opened my mouth with its tail---"
His affects were controlled and subjected to the instinct for research...
"and struck me many times with its tail against my lips."
What interested him in a picture was above all a problem; and behind the first one he saw countless other problems arising, just as he used to in his endless and inexhaustible investigation of nature. He was no longer able to limit his demands, to see the work of art in isolation and to tear it from the wide context to which he knew it belonged. After the most exhausting efforts to bring to expression in it everything which was connected with it in his thoughts, he was forced to abandon it in an unfinished state or to declare that it was incomplete. The artist had once taken the investigator into his service to assist him; now the servant had become stronger and suppressed his master.
Let us leave unsolved the riddle of the expression on Mona Lisa's face, and note the indisputable fact that her smile exercised no less powerful a fascination on the artist than on all who have looked at it for the last four hundred years.
By repressing his love for his mother he preserves it in his unconscious and from now on remains faithful to her. While he seems to pursue boys and to be their lover, he is in reality running away from the other women, who might cause him to be unfaithful.
When, in the prime of life, Leonardo once more encountered the smile of bliss and rapture which had once played on his mother's lips as she fondled him, he had for long been under the dominance of an inhibition which forbade him ever again to desire such caresses from the lips of women. But he had become a painter, and therefore he strove to reproduce the smile with his brush, giving it to all his pictures...
The figures are still androgynous but no longer in the sense of the vulture-phantasy. They are beautiful youths of feminine delicacy and with effeminate forms; they do not cast their eyes down, but gaze in mysterious triumph, as if they knew of a great achievement of happiness, about which silence must be kept. The familiar smile of fascination leads one to guess that it is a secret of love. It is possible that in these figures Leonardo has denied the unhappiness of his erotic life and has triumphed over it in his art, by representing the wishes of the boy, infatuated with his mother, as fulfilled in this blissful union of the male and female natures.
Excerpted by Eduardo Zeiger from Sigmund Freud's 1910 essay, Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, transl. by Alan Tyson, ed. by James Strachey, publ. by W. W. Norton & Company (1989).
Set by Kitty Brazelton for BOG LIFE to accompany Zeiger's dance 2/14/93
ELEANOR HOVDA (b. 1940, Duluth, MN) is a widely performed composer who has served on dance and/or music faculties of Sarah Lawrence College, Wesleyan University, the American Dance Festival and Princeton University. Having herself studied at Randolph-Macon Woman's College, American University, Yale School of Music and the Kolner kurse fur neue musik in Cologne, she has co-founded (with Jeannine Wagar) the Cuicani Project to provide a supportive workshop environment for composers developing new works. Hovda wrote Jo-Ha-kyu for Libby Van Cleve during their mutual residence at Yellow Springs Institute in Chester, PA. "I have been working for several years on pieces which operate in 'the sound around the sound' areas of various instruments and ensembles."
To get at "the vast sound worlds which can be generated by the oboe", Libby worked with all kinds of combinations of fingerings, tonguings, uses of air pressure, lip position, etc. "Jo-Ha-Kyu refers to a Japanese energy form used in the ancient performing arts such as Noh Theater and Bunraku. 'Jo' is introduction; 'Ha' means 'opening up' or 'scattering' and 'Kyu' means 'rush to finish.' Each articulation (such as a single utterance of the note 'b') contains 'jo-ha-kyu' and the entire piece is 'jo-ha-kyu.' This is a kind of fractal or 'boxes within boxes' situation.
AMY LOWELL (1874-1925) was a Brookline-born, Amherst-resident Massachusetts poet. Reacting to the idealized, sentimental poetry of the late 19th century and inspired by classicism, the French symbolistes and Asian literature, Lowell and her colleagues Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle championed vers libre (free verse) and established the clearly observed, metaphorically concentrated and idiomatically American style known as imagism. The Dinner Party appears in Men, Women And Ghosts, Lowell's 1916 collection of "stories", narrative poems and tales divided into scenes. Composer Brazelton, a cousin of Lowell's, says, "The Dinner Party reminded me of going to formal dinners on Beacon Hill in Boston when I was growing up."
"So..." they said,
"So.." they said again,
The gentleman with the grey-and-black-whiskers
In a dress all softness and half-tones,
They sat in a circle with their coffee-cups.
They took dead men's souls
6. ELEVEN O' CLOCK
The front door was hard and heavy
RUTH CRAWFORD SEEGER (1901-1953) enrolled in Chicago's American Conservatory of Music in 1920 as a pianist and composer, but abandoned her performance ambitions after suffering muscle strain. Her early compositions emerged in soirees attended by Henry Cowell and Dane Rudhyar. In 1929 Ms. Crawford visited the MacDowell Colony; in 1930 she moved to New York, associating with Carl Ruggles and studying composition with Charles Seeger prior to a year in Paris.
The Diaphonic Suite is the first of four pieces composed at Seeger's assignment. Matilda Guame writes in Women Making Music, The Western Art Tradition 1150-1950 that, like much of Ruth Crawford Seeger's mature work. it is notable for "dissonant rhythm, dissonant counterpoint, and the dissonanting of a single melody as long as possible (by avoiding triadic implications on successive notes of the melody)." In 1932 Crawford married Seeger. While her energies were diverted to her children (born in 1933, '35, '37 and '43), Mrs. Seeger made musical transcriptions for the folk song anthology Our Singing Country, published her own songbook for children, composed sporadically and taught. She wrote Suite for Wind Quintet in 1952. and died of cancer the next year.
The first woman to be awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, Seeger's personal motto was "We should not seek to become greater than others, but to discover the greatness in ourselves."
JOHN UEHLEIN, has sung Puccini's Turandot as well as the contemporary operas Casey at The Bat (Wm. Schuman), Peronelle (L. Spivak), Virgil's Dream (M. Colgrass), Christoph Rilke's Song of Love and Death (Seigfried Matthus), Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and Oedipus Rex and appeared in the world premiere of John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer at Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival. He is presently a doctoral candidate in composer at Columbia University where he received his M.A.. John wrote ethereally disturbing yet soothing Spirit Dance (1993) for Bog Life in memoriam for friends who have died of AIDS
---Notes by Howard Mandel, 1992
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