Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Four Saints

I'm probably the last musicologist in the world to realize this, but the Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Steing opera Four Saints in Three Acts is really fun. I've been reading about it all summer, in a variety of different contexts--Nadine Hubbs does a long analysis of it in The Queer Composition of America's Sound, as does Daniel Albright in Untwisting the Serpent. So, I figured that it would probably make a good addition to my fifty item list as one of the ten musical works, and bought both a recording and the vocal score.

Finally got around to listening to it tonight (just the first act so far), and it is fabulous! Very witty and campy--my favorite is when the chorus keeps getting the word "anoint" confused with "annoy". I don't know Thomson's music well, and had been curious to see how he would set Stein's libretto. He does it very straight, in a lot of chorales and hymn-like settings that give you both a sense of dry midwestern-ness but also a touch of poignancy. Occasionally there are little hiccups that remind me of the similar hiccups in the fast sections of Glass's Mad Rush, and make me realize that additive processes owe a lot to Stein.

On to the second act!

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