Molly Bloom's soliloquy has intrigued me since I was in High School. James Joyce has expressed so many universal topics through his feminine persona. The seamlessness with which he moves from today's breakfast to confession to the passionate effects of a kiss reflect the fluidity of thought, un-constricted by the logic of grammar, syntax and conventional structure. It was this effortless motion that I sought to reflect in music, a medium immanently suited to float between seemingly incongruous ideas, weaving them together as though they naturally belonged.
As a teenager, I was impressed with Molly Bloom's frank sexuality and unabashed pleasure in her body which represented the kind of freedom that few contemporary women dared express. Molly was not ashamed of her desires and luxuriated in recollecting their fulfillment as well as their frustrations. She was unimpressed with men's overinflated self-importance and posturing.
Joyce modeled Molly after his own wife, Nora Barnacle. Because she was uneducated and wrote without using any punctuation, he invested Molly with the same breathless and ambiguously undressed originality. As a composer, the multiple layers of meaning implied by eight run-on sentences of over a hundred pages translates into music whose cadences must clarify the transitions from one thought to another and the dramatic phrasing of the singing actress portraying Molly. I have drawn my interpretation from reading these lines aloud and from listening to many great actresses perform this monologue at the Bloomsday on Broadway celebrations at Symphony Space.
Molly, who performs as a singer, refers to several popular songs of her day (1904): Love's Old Sweet Song; Won't You Come Home Bill Baily and Shall I Wear A White Rose? I have used these songs as found objects and have woven my score around them.
The piece is organized into 16 episodes and a prologue.The combinations and permutations of the string quartet include 4 solos, 6 duets, 4 trios and 3 quartets. The instrumentalists act as characters in the drama, echoes of Molly's thoughts and emotions, and as a chorus, commenting on the action. Each episode is organized according to a musical form, including a canon, march, fantasia, blues, waltz, variations, gallop, nocturne, tango and lullaby.
A Modest Proposal
Commissioned by tenor Paul Sperry and The Cleveland Chamber Symphony
Although Jonathan Swift was satirizing the English prejudice towards the Irish in A Modest Proposal, his grisly theme applies to our contemporary world as well. We may pay lip service to nurturing children, but our culture demonstrates a less wholesome reality. Today children are exploited by an economy that prefers profiting from their buying power to providing for their wellbeing, a media that sells them violence, and in many regions of the world, a military that teaches them to become heroes by sacrificing their lives. Every day we read of new horrors perpetrated against children. I have come to the conclusion that ours is an age that is consuming its own young. Swift makes his point not through righteous indignation, but rather through humor. This is disarming and allows us to ingest his message without gagging on its bitter taste. In a musical analogy, I have chosen to use nursery songs as the basis of the musical fabric, illuminating the text with an ongoing commentary by the orchestra. Thus the most horrific words are couched in the seemingly benign melody of a child's innocent ditty. These are the songs used: Three Blind Mice; Old McDonald Had A Farm; Row, Row, Row Your Boat; Pop Goes The Weasel; Frere Jacques; Mary Had A Little Lamb; Yankee Doodle; I've Got Shoes; A Tiskit A Taskit; I've Been Working On The Railroad; Rockabye Baby; For He's a Jolly Good Fellow; God Save The Queen.