Civilization & Its Discontents
Civilization and Its Discontents is the title of a famous essay of Sigmund Freud about the ills of society. Civilization & Its Discontents is also the title of a ground-breaking new music theater piece, a lively and biting musical satire written and composed jointly by Michael Sahl and Eric Salzman. It was originally a prize-winning off-off-Broadway music theater comedy, a music-theater recording for National Public Radio that had one of the largest air plays of any work of its kind, and a Prix Italia winner that was aired on radio stations around the world.
The recorded form of the work, especially produced for radio and disc by the authors, originally issued by Nonesuch and now re-issued by Labor, uses the form of a musical radio drama to capture the dark side of the so-called ‘me’ generation in a whirlwind of ‘break-a-leg’ dance music, pick-ups, one-night stands, frantic phone calls, egocentric confrontations and mad man hijinks.
Carlos Arachnid invites us to join him and his friends in Club Bide-a-wee whose motto is “If it feels good, do it!” Dancing alternates with ‘freeze-frame’ moments of high anxiety, angry words and sexual come-ons.
Scene II is in Jill Goodheart’s bedroom where a seduction scene is interrupted by a constant string of phone calls, the arrival of Jill’s boyfriend and the deus ex machina appearance of Arachnid who brings us back to Club Bide-a-wee for a deconstructed dance orgy and an ironic morality.
Moments of ’80s retro alternate with stunning sound images, a relentless musical flow, seduction music of extreme beauty and a social commentary that is as amusing as it is scary and remarkably up-to-date.
Jukebox in the Tavern of Love
- Madrigal comedy for 6 voices
- Text by Valeria Vasilevski
- Commissioned by the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble
- Duration circa 45″
A staged reading of the completed and revised work took place at the Tenri Center in NYC on June 20, 2007. The full production took place in May to June 2008 at The Flea Theater in New York’s Tribeca. The work was performed on a double bill with the Adriano Banchieri “Barca di Venetia per Padova” and both works were directed by Valeria Vasilevski. Audio (CD) and video (DVD) recordings are in production.
Excerpts from the work have been performed regularly by the Western Wind in concert during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
The True Last Words of Dutch Schultz
- Libretto by Valeria Vasilevski after the original text of Dutch Schultz
- Duration 45″
- The Netherlands, 1997/1998
- Michiel van Westering Productions and Opera Centrum Nederlands, Amsterdam
- With Theo Bleckmann as Dutch
- Directed by Valeria Vasilevski
- On a double bill with Civilization and Its Discontents (Eric Salzman and Michael Sahl), directed by Valeria Vasilevski
- Toured to Breda, Haarlem, Eindoven, Groningen
- CD and press quotes available
- April 2001
- Cutting Edge Concerts, Greenwich House, NYC
- c. 25″ Concert Version
- Directed by Victoria Bond
- Theo Bleckmann as Dutch
VOX (Opera/Music-Theater Consortium)
- Speak Easy scene performed by Kendra Shank with Curtis Macomber (violin)
On the Edge (Opera/Music-Theater Consortium)
- May 17 & 19, 2005
- Thalia Theater, Symphony Space, NYC
- 20″ of excerpts
- Dirk Weiler as Dutch; Napua Davoy as the Cabaret Singer; Members of Western Wind with Branch Fields as The Mob; Renee Jolles (violin); Randall Eng (keyboard and musical direction)
- May 19, 2007
- Symphony Space (Sharp Theater)
- Music direction by Victoria Bond
- Stage direction by Grethe Holby
- Staged reading with Dirk Weiler, Marshall Coid, Jorge Garza, Ross Beneliel, Ethan Hirshenfeld and Robyn Payne; Curtis Macomber (violin); Joshua Pierce (piano), Arthur Miller (Foley Artist)
The True Last Words of Dutch Schultz is based on the actual 1200 dying words of Dutch Schultz, Public Enemy No. 1. Dutch, born Arthur Flegenheimer, was an infamous New York gangster in the 1920s and ’30s who controlled the sale of illegal alcohol during the Prohibition Era. Prohibition precipitated a lively and violent underground that laid a net of organized crime still active today. Dutch was its king.
With the end of Prohibition, the underworld took control of an illegal lottery known as the Numbers Racket. It was the Great Depression and families had a hard time putting bread on the table and yet Dutch was earning as much as $30,000 a day on the Numbers alone!
In October, 1935, Dutch was mysteriously gunned down in the toilet of a Newark chophouse. He was taken to the hospital and, during the hours before his death, every delirious word he uttered was recorded by a police stenographer. His interrogation was relentless as the police desperately tried to find the key that would open up the underground world of organized crime.
Dutch’s final words speak to his own tumultuous history, to his time (not so unlike our own) as well as to the universal moment of death when bravado shatters, time compresses and accelerates and each breath becomes a stay of execution.
The work is written for the voice and extended technique of Theo Bleckmann. A male barbershop quartet portrays Dutch’s mob as well as some of the ghost-like figures of his life who reappear at the moment of his death. The voice of the mother completes the ensemble. The instrumentation includes a mistuned violin, tuba, keyboards, percussion and a Foley table of acoustic sound effects of the type used in early radio and film. We also hear the voice of the late William Burroughs, a self-described literary outlaw, himself obsessed with death, darkness and Dutch.
- Prologue: Requiem for a Gangster (violin scordatura)
- Interrogation (Dutch and ensemble)
- Dutch Meets His Mother (Dutch, Mother, Mob a capella)
- The Racket (Dutch, mob, ensemble)
- Speak Easy (film with Girl Friend, ensemble with violin solo)
- The Nightmare (Dutch solo)
- My Friends Think I Do a Better Job (Dutch, Mob, Mother, ensemble)
Cast and Instrumentation
The Gangster Dutch Schultz
baritone, extended voice
male vocal quartet TTBB (low bass)
- Keyboard/Conductor (synthesizer/sampler)
- Violin (2 instruments, 1 scordatura)
- Drums and percussion
- Foley table (acoustic sound effects)
- Text by Eva Salzman
- All performances by Kristin Norderval (soprano, piano, digital sound)
- Duration circa 20″
- October 5, 2001
- Ultima Festival and NewOp10
- Oslo, Norway
- A video tape of this performance was shown at Harvestworks in New York on April 16, 2002
- November 2002
- Wien Modern Festival, NewOp11
- WUK Theater, Vienna, Austria
- Staged by Valeria Vasilevski
6 Tage Oper (6-Day Opera)
- February 13–14, 2004
- Duesseldorf, Germany
La Prière du Loup (Wolfman Prayer)
- Text by Michel Rostain and Eric Salzman
- Music-theater for voice, keyboards, 2 percussionists (mallets)
- Commissioned by Un Théâtre pour la musique and the Scène nationale de Quimper, Brittany, France
- Original text in French; English translation by Eric Salzman
- Duration circa 20″
- Théâtre Max Jacob, 1997
- Quimper, Brittany, France
- With Jacques Auffray
- Directed by Michel Rostain
- First performance in English translation
- July 23, 2003
- Festival of the Hamptons
- Rinde Eckert (voice); Joseph Kubera (piano); Dylan Benson and Mike Aberback (percussion)
- Staged by Noel Salzman
La bonne âme de Setchouan
- Songs, ensembles and scene music for a new French translation of Bertold Brecht’s Der gute Mensch von Szechuan
- Duration circa 35″ of music (full evening)
- January 13 to February 7, 2004
- Théâtre du Trident, Québec
- Quebec City, Canada
- Salle Octave-Crémazie, Grand Théâtre de Québec
- Staged by Antoine Laprise
N.B.: This version of the play was written by Brecht in Santa Monica, California, for a projected Broadway production with music by Kurt Weill. Nothing came of this project and this production is believed to be the first staging of this version of the piece.
A William Meredith Bestiary
- Cycle of song settings of poetry by William Meredith for soprano (mezzo) and piano
- Commissioned for Meredith’s 80th birthday
- July 17, 2004
- Varna Festival
- Varna, Bulgaria
- Janna Baty (soprano)
- November 2004
- Hofstra College
- Hofstra, NY
- Janna Baty (soprano); Christopher Lyndon-Gee (piano)
- Music direction by Christopher Lyndon-Gee
The Odyssey of Homer
Music for the National Radio Theater Production
Written, produced and directed by Yuri Rasovsky with Ed Asner, Irene Worth, Barry Morse, Shepperd Strudwick, John Glover and many others. The extensive musical score was composed, directed, recorded and produced by Eric Salzman. This production won Peabody, Armstrong, Ohio State, San Francisco State and Earphones Awards. Recently released on cassette, CD and MP3 CD by Downpour.
Abel Gance à New York
Opera by François Godin (French)
- Commissioned by Chants Libres
- For keyboards, violin, clarinet and percussion
- Duration circa 20″
Work-in-progress Presentation by Chants Libres at NewOp8
- Fall 1999
- Montréal, Canada
- Directed by Antoine Laprise
Strike Up the Band
- Arranged from the George and Ira Gershwin Musical
- For voice, violin, cello, two saxophones, trumpet, keyboard, bass and drums
- Commissioned by Un Théâtre pour la Musique and the Scene Nationale de Quimper, Brittany, France
- Dialogue scenes in French; Songs in English
- Duration full evening
This “pocket” version of the George Kaufman/Ira Gershwin/George Gershwin Strike Up the Band (adapted by Martine-Josephine Thomas; adapted, arranged and music-directed by Eric Salzman) for concert and workshop performances in Paris and Quimper, France, over various periods of time, 2000-2002; details on request.
Suite from Strike Up the Band
For chamber orchestra
Based on Salzman’s Strike Up the Band
Commissioned by L’Orchestre de Sciences Po, Paris, and performed there under the direction of Elizabeth Askren-Brie on June 10, 12, 13 and 15, 2006. The American premiere (solo version for 13 players took place at Washington Square Festival, New York, on July 17, 2007, under the direction of David Oei.
Arranged for string quartet or string orchestra from early prepared piano pieces by John Cage; published by C.F. Peters; various performances and recordings by the Kronos Quartet and others.
- Set of songs based on poems by e. e. cummings
- For voice and piano
- Duration circa 20″
Three of the songs—lady, will you come with me, cruelly love, and if I have made my lady—performed by Lars Woodhul (baritone) and Shinah Riley (piano) at Greenwich House Music School, December 13, 2001.
- February 29, 2003
- Lars Woodhul (baritone) and Shinah Riley (piano)
- Stallar Fine Arts Recital Hall, SUNY
- Stony Brook