an on-line review of the music-theater book
Perry J. Greenbaum, a genial and insightful Canadian blogger on political and cultural subjects, has just posted a notice about “The New Music Theater: Seeing the Voice, Hearing the Body”, the book by Thomas Desi and myself published by Oxford University Press. Here’s the link.
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 <www.laborrecords.com/lab7092.html>
“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.”
a new review
Reviews of the Labor/Naxos release “The Nude Paper Sermon” and “Wiretap” <www.laborrecords.com/lab7092.html> continue to appear. The latest is from Grapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review (Grego Applegate Edwards):
Re: The Nude Paper Sermon: “…A narrator, in a lengthy and sometimes rapid-fire monologue, personifies a sort of voice of the media, pontificating in a disjointed and sometimes surreal manner on anything and everything while an acoustic-electric collage of Babel crowd voices, a Renaissance style vocal group, noise, Boschian effects from a modern hell, all combine to make a soundscape that is both funny, mind expanding and, especially at the time, terrifying. It is one of the better multi-stranded collage pieces of the era, at the same time leaves you with an acute and aesthetically satisfying portrayal of a contemporary world so overloaded with messages and input that meaning is in short supply.”
“…(Wiretap) captures the experimental excitement of the era, some of the excesses of expression the era produced, and the urgent impetus to create relevant works that somehow commented on the vitality and critical impact of the passing scene.”
You can find the full review at <classicalmodernmusic.blogspot.com>
a new review of Civilization & Its Discontents (Sahl/Salzman)
This review just appeared on blogcritics.rog <http://blogcritics.org/cd-review-cast-album-ciivilization-and/>
by Jack Goodstein
Civilization and Its Discontents, the 1977 genre-bending musical stage production written and composed by Michael Sahl and Eric Salzman, not to be confused with Sigmund Freud’s more famous tome of the same title which may bend some ideas but has no music, was originally recorded in 1978 and reissued earlier this year by Labor Records. Whether the appropriation of Freud’s title is meant to suggest that the collaborators have something more in mind that satirizing elements of modern civilization, I leave to more analytic minds. As far as I’m concerned farcical socio-cultural satire is enough for me.
What form a work of art takes is always an important consideration; you don’t want to criticize a novel as though it were a sonnet, or a string quartet as though it were a symphony. In the liner notes to the original Nonesuch release, the composers take a lot of time discussing operatic traditions, operetta, and musical theater by way of explaining what they see themselves as doing as far as form is concerned. They see their work in the context of those operatic traditions where comic elements often turn up as serious critiques. Musical comedy may do the same thing, but it caters to a more popular sensibility, or at least it often does. In essence, it would seem that as far as Sahl and Salzman are concerned their work looks to take what they need from both traditions.
The music itself is either all over the place or, as New York Times critic Peter Davis called it back then, “a brilliant amalgam of jazz, pop, blues and classical forms.” The trouble with amalgams is that not everyone who is happy with an evening of jazz is equally happy with pop intrusions; and blues lovers aren’t necessarily going to love what they might hear as operatic caterwauling. But when it comes right down to it, operatic forms and musical ideas dominate here. This is clear from the show’s very opening notes. It may not be the opera of Puccini or Verdi, but opera it is. That is not to say that there aren’t these other formal elements scattered through the show, it is simply to say that pop elements are not emphasized.
This is not a highlights album. It includes the whole of the show, which is divided into scenes following an ABA structure. The first scene opens in Club Bide-A-Wee where the heroine Jill Goodheart and her boyfriend Derek have an argument and he leaves. Jeremy Jive arrives and tries to pick her up with a line something like: “Can you explain what Patti Smith means to you.” There is a lot of internal monologue, against the background of the club’s mantra: “If it feels good, do it.” The scene ends with a show-stopping jazz number.
The second scene is a farcical description of Jeremy’s attempts to seduce Jill in her apartment in the face of constant interruptions including the return of Derek. Jeremy and Derek discover a business connection involving a singing chicken. The third scene takes the trio back to the club for an absurdist finale.
Jill is played by Candice Earley, Derek by William Parry, and Jeremy by Paul Binnotto. Karl Patrick Krause plays Carlos Arachnid who seems to be something of a combination of club owner and master of ceremonies as he invites the audience into the club. This, with the exception of Parry, was the original cast of the off-Broadway production, which won an award as the best off-Broadway show of the year. It was recorded for broadcast on National Public Radio in 1980, I would assume with some of the language cleaned up.
Civilization and its Discontents has some very engaging music and dynamic performances. The show’s album manages to capture much of that dynamic appeal. In the end, though, I suspect that this is a musical that needs to be seen for best effect. The album is fine; a new production would be better.
another C&D review
There’s another ‘classical’ review of “Civilization & Its Discontents” at <http://classicalmodernmusic.blogspot.com/>.