Eric Salzman: Composer, Author, Music Theater Innovator


Sahl/Salzman collaborations

My old collaborator, Michael Sahl, is not well and has moved out of his apartment to a care facility while several of his associates — Beth Anderson, Laurie Speigel, Steve Rathe — have been collecting his scores and recordings for an archive at SUNY Buffalo where Michael was an artist in residence years ago. This is not the place to go into Michael’s distinguished, long and prolific career but Michael and I wrote six music-theater works in collaboration. They are “The Conjurer” (Public Theater; directed by Tom O’Horgan); “Civilization & Its Discontents” (AMDA,  NPR, published by G. Schirmer, recorded by Nonesuch Records; currently available on Labor/Naxos); “Stauf” (our cabaret Faust; performed at Cubiculo, Philadelphia Theatre Company/American Music Theater Festival); “Noah” (commissioned by the N. Carolina School of the Arts; performed at Pratt Institute, Washington Sq. Methodist Church and the Jewish Center for Services for the Aged; WBAI); “The Passion of Simple Simon” (Theatre for the New City; WNYC); “Boxes” (KCRW/APR, Seagram Award, National Music Theatre Network, Victory Theater NYC). “Boxes” was the only work in which text and music were credited separately (music by Michael, text by Eric Salzman; the others were words-and-music collaborations). All of these are full-length theater/opera works except “Civilization” which is a one acter.

Apparently none (or very little of this material) has been found in Michael’s apartment so I have been working on collecting, updating and digitizing the scores and recordings in my possession to make them available for the archive.

Western Wind recording of madrigal comedy is ready!

“Jukebox in the Tavern of Love” is the title of a modern madrigal comedy commissioned by the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble — a contemporary take on a 16th century music-theater form. The text is by Valeria Vasilevski and the music by Eric Salzman. Six New Yorkers — a bartender, a dancer, a rabbi, a nun, a Con Ed worker and a poet — find themselves trapped in a bar during a raging thunderstorm and blackout and they pass the time telling their personal stories about love until the lights come back on. The Western Wind gave the premiere and has performed the work at Bargemusic, the Flea Theater and Tenri Cultural Institute in New York. They have now recorded the work for Labor/Naxos and it is scheduled for release early next year together with the premiere recording of “Basket Rondo”, a new work by Meredith Monk, also commissioned by the ensemble. This will be the third in the series of recordings of Salzman’s work; the earlier releases were “Civilization & Its Discontents” (with Michael Sahl), “The Nude Paper Sermon” and the four works that make up “Wiretap” in a double album.

new review of “Civilization & Its Discontents”

 From New Music Connoisseur, Vol. 20, #2





By Michael Sahl and Eric Salzman


Labor Records [LAB 7089]


By Nancy Manocherian


It’s years now I’ve had a vinyl copy of Civilization & Its Discontents (not Freud’s version), but sadly no turntable or incentive to pursue a path to such an antique on which to play the LP. So when I was asked to write about the newly minted (or re-released) CD, I was eager to listen to the celebrated recording written and composed by my colleague and collaborator, Michael Sahl, and my friend, Eric Salzman. Given the full disclosure contained in that last sentence, I won’t pretend I can be entirely objective about this work; I am, I think, spiritually tied to their politics and humor, something so deeply ingrained that I feel it must stem from our common Eastern European roots. Jewish humor is a fact, but I also believe there is universal truth in all things tribal, no less from these two composers with a gift for commentary, political and otherwise.


After reading the CD jacket and all the accolades, I wondered, how could I possibly add something that hasn’t already been said? I then listened from the opening line — “Boys and girls come out to play, the moon shines as bright as day–” I thought (despite knowing better), I was in for some kind of torturous version of Freud’s famous book. Suddenly — maybe 40 seconds in — the music took a turn for the better. I’d been had…I found myself curiously transported. Of course, I reminded myself, this is Michael and Eric.


From the rhyming lyrics — hilarious and unexpected, to the voices — operatic without cloying drama, to the music — melodic yet edgy and modern, I was drawn into the spell of cliché turned on its head, bopping along to the various twists and turns of the rhythm and sound. The character of the music is as unique as its creators. I am sure this was a radical piece at the time of its first release, but it still holds up as a post-Rent musical dramatization of the time in which is was conceived.


“If it feels good, do it,” was the anthem of my generation. This glorious refrain speaks volumes about the 70’s as well as sums up Freud’s ideas about repression of instinct and its consequences on the individual. In fact, Civilization & Its Discontents is like Rent before Rent was Rent and out-Bohemes La Bohème in the same way; by contemporizing the human struggle for freedom. The title, Civilization & Its Discontents may have been plagiarized, but the content came from the astute powers of observation and creation of the two brilliant, zany guys who conjured it.


Listening to it on a CD gives it new life as fresh and timeless as any modern classic.



Date Posted // June 18, 2013
In Categories // Civilization and Its Discontents, Music Theater, Recordings, Reviews

New reviews of Labor Records releases

New reviews of the Labor Records releases — “Civilization & Its Discontents”, “The Nude Paper Sermon” and “Wiretap” — are in the current issue of the American Record Guide. They can be found here and here. If the copy comes up small you should be able to enlarge the type to a readable size. Like the other reviews of these releases, these are very insightful!

Date Posted // April 25, 2013
In Categories // Civilization and Its Discontents, News, Recordings, Reviews, The Nude Paper Sermon, Wiretap

new review of Nude Paper Sermon & Wiretap

Here is a new review by Dustin Mallory of “The Nude Paper Sermon” and “Wiretap” from the current (April/May) issue of Cadence. More information, listening excerpts, etc. are at <>

“The career of Eric Salzman includes the titles of music critic, author, educator, academic, and producer. His work in these areas frequently overshadows his wonderful gifts as a composer and a visionary of the future of musical theatre. This two-disc release reissues the late ‘60s and early ‘70s performances of his musical drama “Wiretap,” and probably his most famous composition, “The Nude Paper Sermon.” Both pieces are very difficult to perform, but the ensembles successfully handle the undertaking.

“The Nude Paper Sermon” blurs the lines of time and genre by mixing the sounds of a Renaissance consort and The New York Motet Singers, with a modern inclusion of electronic sounds and an actor/narrator. The actor positions himself as a media/cultural voice that frequently dates the performance to the late ‘60s with references to segregation, Pete Seeger, and Martha Graham. The collage of sounds personifies the second half of the 20th Century as an intricate and often overwhelming experience of overstimulation and complication.

“Wiretap” is the slightly lesserknown collection of four movements on American life. Each subject seeks to “tap” into the mind of the listener to discover an awareness of the self and its multifarious relationships with the world. Spatial existence, discomfort, manifestation, struggle, fantasy, and reality are all explored using musical sensibilities. Philosophically, the piece seems to suggest that music is not the “art in life,” but rather that music, social interactions, and media as an entire experience, are the “art of life.” From a musical perspective, innovative techniques in vocalization, electro-acoustic textures, and instrumentation are explored. Silverman’s guitar plays a fascinating role juxtaposed against Ross’s voice. Nagrin’s voiced sounds seem to symbolize
the haunting and longing nature of the human spirit for something unknown. The real interest here will be how this compressed psychosomatic journey will affect the twenty-first century listener.”