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William Bolcom (b. 1938)
This selection by Carole Farley of my songs coversforty years of my writing for both concert and theater.
Not everyone can shift stylistic gears as easily andbrilliantly as she from straight-out Broadway parody(Casino Paradise's Night, Make My Day) to difficult artmusic (the I Will Breathe a Mountain cycle). Who but acourageous soprano would start a recording with ascream? Carole has begun her programme with YouCannot Have Me Now, from the 1969 opera for actorsGreatshot, written for the Yale Repertory Theater in1969; the character is a German war-bride in a marriedofficers'neighbourhood on a military base, telling us ofher and her husband's wild goings-on among the brassand NCOs. A friend at Stanford met such a womanliving at a California airbase, and Arnold Weinstein'slyric stretches her story only slightly; the part about aten-year duration is evidently true to life. Night, MakeMy Day, from the 1990 theatre opera Casino Paradise,is sung torchily by the young repressed spinster Cisanticipating a wedding night that, at the last minute, issnatched from her. Weinstein and I intended it as a sendupof a Liza Minnelli-ish over-the-top extravaganza, butthe cabaret performer Karen Akers has performed itstraight, to our amazement. Cis will reappear, telling uswhy her love life is so lonely, in My Father theGangster.
When Marilyn Horne gave her farewell concert afew years ago (of concert and opera repertoire only; shestill performs popular music wonderfully), she asked fora contribution. May Swenson's The Digital WonderWatch was the result; the poem celebrates hercompanion's recent acquisition of a phenomenal multiusetimepiece.
My long-time friend and frequent collaborator theconductor Dennis Russell Davies began a project withthe rock diva Marianne Faithfull involving mycollaboration with the poet-playwright FrankMcGuinness - of which this terrifying poem, The LastDays of Mankind, was the only song achieved.
Dan Wagoner is one of my favourite New Yorkdancers; imagine William Blake's spirit-portrait GladDay come to life. His dancing has sometimes broughttears. Wagoner's companion George Montgomery, aspare, laconic poet of last century's postwar New YorkSchool, is, I am told, better known in Spanish translationthan in English; Songs to Dance is a trio for singer,dancer, and piano that Dan, my wife Joan Morris, and Iperformed - only once - at New York's Joyce Theater.
When Marilyn Horne asked for a cycle of songsfrom American women poets, she had already pickedEmily Dickinson's The Bustle in the House, whichMarilyn had read at her brother's funeral. I in turn askedmy friend Alice Fulton to pick an anthology for me,including one of her own poems; I felt her choiceswould lend I Will Breathe a Mountain a special verbaltopography - something I had also requested from thepoet T. J. Anderson III for the choral cycle The Mask.
The wide poetic range incorporates Edna St. VincentMillay (in sonnet form), Fulton (in an evocation of herearly womanhood in Troy, New York), the eminentAfrican-American Gwendolyn Brooks, the febrile AnneSexton, the 1920s bohemian HD (Hilda Doolittle), theWashington State poet Denise Levertov, Dickinson, themid-century New York poet, and editor Louise Bogan,the same May Swenson of The Digital Wonder Watch,and finally the great Elizabeth Bishop in a slightlyabridged rendering of The Fish.
My close friend the Memphis-born poet RichardTillinghast is known both in the United States and inIreland; Costa del Nowhere, a rueful encounter, isfollowed by Richard's translation of The Table, from theeminent Turkish poet Cansever.
It has sometimes been tendered that WilliamBlake's poem Mary was inspired by his friend, thecelebrated early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.
The director Paul Sills, founder of the Second Citytroupe from which so very many prominent Americanactors sprang, and who had directed both our DynamiteTonite and Greatshot, called desperately one day in1980 to Arnold Weinstein and me to help: A young pairof producers planned to bring The Wind in the Willowsto Broadway, and would we contribute a score? The twoyoung men seemed particularly green to us - one oftheir ideas was a promotional button reading I've BeenTOAD Away - and it was not long before Paul lostpatience with them and quit the project (the two went onto commission a rock score, turning Badger into afemale for 'love interest' and sponsoring the longestpreview run ever on Broadway with their show, whichclosed immediately upon opening). A few years ago thepainter-producer-director John Wulp would enlistmusician Scott Griffin to arrange our existing songs intoa score for a children's production on the offshoreMaine island North Haven.
And finally we come to the earliest song, from myfirst collaboration with Weinstein, When We Built theChurch. Arnold's and my working partnership wasmatchmade by Darius Milhaud, who had met Weinsteinin Florence and passed me a libretto (then called AComedy of Horrors) one day in 1960 after class in Paris.
I immediately wanted to set it because of its beautifulbalance of the colloquial and classical, a specialty ofArnold's. Retitled Dynamite Tonite, the work employedsinging actors - I must say I did not realise whilecomposing it how more apropos they would be than'straight' singers - and the short-lived Actors StudioTheater produced the show in 1963. Dynamite is less ananti-war piece than a Marx-Brothersish dramma giocosoabout war; Alvin Epstein, the Sergeant squirreled in abunker with the Captain during an endless conflictnobody remembers the reason for, sings this wistfulmemorial for his bombed church.William Bolcom