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Ezra Pound, “Le Testament De Villon”(1923) – Opera [Holland Festival 1980 (Live recording)]

 

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Ο Εζρα Πάουντ το 1923 συνέθεσε τη μουσική και το λιμπρέτο για την όπερα «François Villon». Η τελική της μορφή έγινε το 1933. 

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Revisions by Ezra Pound to the 1923 Le Testament Libretto by François Villon and Ezra Pound/ Annotated by editors Robert Hughes and Margaret Fisher . The 1926 revision of Le Testament  was performed at the Salle Pleyel in Paris/ The 1933 final version of the opera has yet to be performed.

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Pound revised his opera in 1926 and again in 1933 to accommodate reduced performing forces. Additionally, musicians in his immediate circle, such as concert violinist and new music specialist Olga Rudge, resisted the mathematical acrobatics required to interpret the irrational rhythms notated in 1923 by George Antheil and urged a more practical version of the opera. Each new version presents a new rhythmic basis for some of the numbers.

In 1926 Pound rented the Salle Pleyel in Paris to preview 9 numbers from his opera and a newly composed overture for a long horn he called the “cornet de dessus,” designed to demonstrate his newly developing theory of Great Bass. Pound reduced the performing forces to tenor, bass-baritone, violin, harpsichord, 2 trombones, and kettle drums; and he revised the rhythms to a new 5/8 basis. Virgil Thomson, who was in the audience, wrote in his memoir, “The music was not quite a musician’s music, though it may well be the finest poet’s music since Thomas Campion. . . .It bore family resemblances unmistakable to the Socrate of Satie; and its sound has remained in my memory” (Virgil Thomson).

Several discrepancies in the manuscript tradition have been resolved for the 1926 performance edition of Le Testament.

Pound’s 1933 final, complete version of the opera, only recently discovered, followed on the heels of the 1931 BBC broadcasts of Le Testament. With the 1923 Antheil version proving too difficult for the musicians, music producer Denis Freeman and conductor Leslie Woodgate were compelled to substitute many of the earliest versions of the arias that had been taken down by Agnes Bedford to Pound’s dictation (1920 to 1921) and layed out by her in score form. After all the trials and errors, the 1933 version was to provide the composer’s authorized (and practical) performance edition. While Pound revised the rhythms of many numbers on a 3/4 and 4/4 basis, he retained the signature irrational meters of the opera’s middle numbers, “Heaulmière’s aria,” “Or y penser,” and “Dame du ciel.” The performing forces call for 9 or more singers, and 10 to 12 instruments.

 

The one-act opera dramatizes the hour in which French poet François Villon (b.1431) pens his most famous poem, Le Testament.

Scene One: a square fronted by a brothel, a bar and a church in Villon’s Paris, circa 1462. Condemned to death and with a warrant out for his arrest, Villon sits before the tavern writing his “last will and irrevocable testament.” Too poor to have material goods, he wills his poetry and his wit to friends and enemies alike. Three arias on the pervasiveness of death, and two arias of regret for lost youth and for lost beauty set the mood: time is the evil. This is confirmed with the boisterous arrival of the old whore Heaulmière who sings of lost charms and old beaux. A procession of colorful characters from Villon’s Paris follows (depending on the version performed): a gallant en route to the brothel sings of love; Villon’s mother sings for the salvation of all; Bozo the drunken brothel keeper sings of his sordid life with Fat Margot; the spent gallant stumbles from the brothel to renounce love. The scene climaxes with a group drinking song in praise of Noah and the vine, the arrival of the police and the arrest of Villon.

Scene Two: The opera concludes with an eerie and preternatural scene evocative of the Noh drama: six corpses strung from the gibbet sing for the salvation of their souls (“Frères humains”).

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