Article Index



Robert Hughes and Margaret Fisher


rsz rh mf jan2015 lucianochessaphotographer 2 2 2 

The Ezra Pound Music Project

                                                                          by Margaret Fisher


     Robert Hughes' interest in Ezra Pound’s poetry goes back to college courses at the University of Buffalo (now SUNY Buffalo) with Pound scholars Forrest Read, Miles Slatin and Thomas Connelly. In 1958, Bob and Forrest brought a recorder quartet down to St. Elizabeths to perform chamber music for Pound. Knowing he had owned and played the bassoon, and being a bassoonist himself, Bob offered Pound his own instrument. When Pound declined, Bob played the bassoon for him.

     In 1960, Bob was in Rapallo hoping to meet with the poet to discuss a performance of Le Testament. But Pound was not speaking. Bob then met with Dorothy, who asked the BBC to send him a copy of the Le Testament 1923 score from their microfilm(a copy of the LOC microfilm made at the request of Sheri Martinelli).It took ten years to find a California sponsor to stage the opera. Western Opera Theatre, the educational and training arm of the San Francisco Opera, would finally sponsor a stage premiere on November 13, 1971. Bob would then conduct the work at the newly opened Zellerbach Auditorium on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. Funding for a studio recording was secured from the Ford Foundation. Saul Zantz’s Fantasy Records donated the necessary studios, engineers and one hundred (!) hours of editing time. With the release of the LP vinyl record in 1972 Bob believed the project had concluded.

     He continued his career as composer, conductor and orchestra musician. Our paths crossed in 1976 on the stage of the Cabrillo Music Festival in Aptos. He was conducting. I was dancing. A new opera by Beth Anderson. By 1978 we were collaborating on performance works. In 1980, we were invited by the Venice Biennale to perform a work that took inspiration from the writings of the entomologist Jean Henri Fabré. Between rehearsals, Bob phoned Olga, who invited us to tea at Calle Querini. She introduced us to her friend Jane Rylands, perched herself atop an old steamer trunk and joked about her many visitors who hoped to find the poet’s papers stashed in a trunk, as in Henry James’s Aspern Papers. There is a bit of truth in that.

    Olga attended our Biennale debut. That summer we were back in Venice with Bob’s precocious Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, performing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Mahler’s Tenth and Bob’s Estampie in the Church of the Frari. The priests overloaded the electrical system while trying to light a ninety-piece orchestra and the electrical panel caught fire! The show, however, did go on, with Olga in attendance. Our friendship grew over the years. During a 1982 visit, she responded to a question about her role in the 1926 Le Testament salon performance by putting the music to Pound’s second opera Cavalcanti in Bob’s hands. Some of the Cavalcanti scores were known to scholars but this proved to be an important discovery – about half the opera. When Bob went to the Beinecke, Mary de Rachewiltz was in residence as curator of her father’s papers. At her suggestion, exploration of the uncatalogued boxes yielded the rest of the opera. The Pound music project was on again after a decade of silence.

     Bob’s new music group The Arch Ensemble produced a concert version of the opera in March of 1983. Olga flew to San Francisco to supervise rehearsals and attend the premiere at Herbst Theatre. I was now the copyist of Pound’s music and publicity director.

     In 1984 Bob and his son visited Olga in Venice. She brought forward a group of cassette tapes recorded in Calle Querini on a small home cassette recorder in the late years of Pound’s life. Many of the cassettes were unspooled and tangled. Bob suggested that they work together to transfer the tapes to reel-to-reel when she was in the U.S. for the 100th anniversary celebrations of Pound. They worked together in Bob’s studio in San Leandro, California. Olga identified the content, which included soundscapes of Pound’s days in Venice, conversations between Olga and Pound, and Pound reading from his work and that of others. Richard Sieburth and Walter de Rachewiltz have placed the “Aspern Tapes” on the PennSound web site.

     There were many questions still unanswered and the work carried on through the end of 2002. In 1989, Bob was at the Bellagio Study Center to compile the scores properly. Everything earlier had been done in a rush to the stage. I moved from music copyist to copy editor when Bob began to write his study of Pound’s music, and then to researcher to fill in the mystery of why Cavalcanti was never broadcast by the BBC. I published my findings independently as Ezra Pound’s Radio Operas, the BBC Experiments, 1931-1933 (The MIT Press, 2002) and continued to assist Bob with the Cavalcanti work, which grew into a double volume and led us to create the imprimatur Second Evening Art. The name refers to art to which we return, once or many times, in contradistinction to art meant to be experienced once, such as improvisation. Our first book was Cavalcanti: A Perspective on the Music of Ezra Pound (2003). It included Bob’s detailed account of Pound’s music training and methods, my contribution concerning the opera as a radio work, and a performance edition of the music score with libretto, beautifully engraved by Thomas Day. Complete Violin Works of Ezra Pound, edited by Bob and with my Introduction, was released in 2004. The following year, Recovery of Ezra Pound’s Third Opera, Collis O Heliconii, the second half of my dissertation, was published as the third book of what had evolved into a series titled The Music of Ezra Pound.

     A final, daunting task lay ahead – sorting out the dozens of music manuscripts of Le Testament, many of which were untitled sketches. The sketches are catalogued across various collections in the Beinecke Library, and across the boxes within each collection. Thanks to a Donald C. Gallup fellowship, we spent two months in residence at the Beinecke. We asked for a special dispensation of rules to allow more than one box to be released at a time, per scholar, per table, to permit comparison. This greatly facilitated the chronological ordering from sketch to final copy for the arias. The Beinecke generously made high resolution scans of the 1923 score of Le Testament for our use in a future volume in the series.

     At home in Emeryville, we faced the task of getting Fantasy Records to release the Testament master tapes to us so that we could digitize the music. Fantasy would not cooperate. However Bob found the original Ford Foundation contract that fortunately stipulated the master tapes would revert to the Literary Estate of Ezra Pound once the work was out of print. Tapes recovered, we received a license from New Directions to issue the opera on audio CD.

     Meanwhile, the fourth book was published with performance scores for the 1926 Salle Pleyel performance in Paris and the unperformed 1933 Testament score in simpler meters in Pound’s hand. The little known 1933 score had been turned out on the heels of the Cavalcanti opera. The music project was always turning up something new. I likened it to an infestation of fleas. We were silly enough to scratch. The project also faced strong headwinds. We had to destroy the entire first print run and fire the printer. We took on the manufacturing of the books ourselves and it gave us an opportunity to upgrade the binding in the process.

     The 1923 Le Testament facsimile edition was released in print with the new audio CD in 2011. Two e-books followed in 2013, the first being my essay on Villon and Pound’s Duration Rhyme that first appeared in the facsimile edition. The second on Great Bass was the other half of my dissertation.

     It has taken a sustained international effort well over half a century to move Pound’s music to a conspicuous place in Pound studies. Dorothy Pound and Olga Rudge actively promoted and in Olga’s case, performed, the music in Pound’s lifetime. Archie Harding of the BBC was another major producer of Pound’s music. Dorothy, Olga and Mary de Rachewiltz have played major roles in facilitating access to the music. D. G. Bridson, R. Murray Schafer, and the BBC in 1962 produced Le Testament a second time.  James Laughlin worked behind the scenes on behalf of the Testament stage premiere and the Bellagio residency. Peggy Fox took over regarding the Cavalcanti opera and Declan Spring followed her. Donald Gallup showed us music manuscripts and related correspondence from his collections and advised us on research avenues to pursue. Antonio Pantano and Gabriele Stocchi have moved mountains to help us with our research and our performance goals. Too often the musicians themselves fall out of notice. For a long time Stephen Adams’s and Archie Henderson’s dissertations were the ‘go to’ sources on Pound’s music. Murray Schafer has done a wonderful service to Pound studies both through the 1962 broadcast and his remarkable book Ezra Pound and Music (New Directions, 1977). It was the first published book on the subject. Ed Korn of Western Opera Theatre was a pivotal force, as were Reinbert de Leeuw (Holland) and Charles Mundye (UK), whose staged productions have added to our understanding of the opera beyond their performance venues, through their recordings. Marcello Fera conducted Cavalcanti in Merano (Italy) in 2002. Charles Amirkhanian, director of the new music festival and record label Other Minds, is a longtime promoter of Pound’s music. He broadcast interviews with Bob and Hugh Kenner in 1971, and produced the 2003 concert which was the basis for the Ego scriptor cantilenae audio CD. Among Pound scholars, Roxana Preda jumped at the chance to sponsor a music column, for which we are grateful. Last, because he is most recent and because his influence in Pound studies will be widespread and long-lasting, A. David Moody has brought Pound’s music into the biography of Pound’s works in a new and meaningful way. Music fills the sails of the first half of his second volume. His book, even more than the recordings, is the lynchpin that secures a place for music within Pound’s oeuvre. That in itself should change the way Pound’s music is woven into the tale of the tribe.


“More than an amateurism”


R. Murray Schafer and Robert Hughes in Discussion with Margaret Fisher

Emeryville CA, November 14, 2000.

             Ed. Margaret Fisher

     In November 2000, when R. Murray Schafer was the invited guest of the San Francisco Art Institute, Bob Hughes and I had the pleasure of meeting him and catching up on the four decades of research of Pound's music that had elapsed since Schafer's BBC Third Programme broadcast of Pound's first opera Le Testament in 1962. Schafer went on to publish the groundbreaking book, Ezra Pound and Music, The Complete Criticism (New Directions, 1977). A prolific composer, Schafer has since gained an international reputation for his Patria music/theatre projects; in 1987 he was the first recipient of the prestigious Glenn Gould prize.

     Schafer and Hughes had not met before despite the important role each played in producing Le Testament and their substantive exchange of letters at the time that Bob conducted the world stage premiere of Le Testament with San Francisco Opera's Western Opera Theater in 1971. The following year Fantasy Records recorded the production on an LP that was to become the foundation for subsequent productions by the Holland, Cambridge, and York (England) Festivals. In 1983 Bob assembled the music and conducted the concert premiere of Pound's second opera Cavalcanti in San Francisco with the Arch Ensemble for New Music. In 2002 Other Minds Festival of San Francisco released an audio CD of opera excerpts and violin pieces, Ego Scriptor Cantilenae, The Music of Ezra Pound (OM #2005), supervised by Bob. The boxed CD-set includes an 80-page booklet with complete texts, recording information, historic photographs, an essay and notes on the relationship of the music to Pound's poetry. 

     The following transcription of our conversation picks up during a discussion of Schafer's preparations for the BBC broadcast.

S = Schafer      H = Hughes       F = Fisher    

S          Pound recommended seeing Agnes Bedford. That was in 1959, and then I saw Agnes Bedford many times through '60, '61, when I was living in London. She was a very kind woman. I'd just been married and she invited us to tea; we invited her to tea, and so forth. She lived in what was called a coach house—accommodations built over the top of a stable or a garage. Hers was only one floor, as I remember. I also remember, it was crowded. There were books and papers and everything. I remember her going to get things, pulling things out. When she would go out of the room, I'd look at the books. It was incredible: there were all these books dedicated to her by T. S. Eliot.

H         What was her relationship to Wyndham Lewis at these last days? She'd read to him or something? He was blind?

S          Yes, he went blind. I think she said something to me about that. She was pretty close to Wyndham Lewis. I've heard said she was one of Lewis' girlfriends. Um, but I don't know.

H         I've picked up just inferences through my reading, but not enough to know.

S          You know that Wyndham Lewis during the War came to Canada? He wrote a book called Self Condemned. He suffered through the Canadian winter in Toronto. Of course the only person in Canada who really understood Wyndham Lewis was Marshall McLuhan. So, Marshall tried to find him some work, because he was penniless. He also spent some time in Buffalo.

H         Wyndham Lewis?

S          Wyndham Lewis. He tried to get some portrait commissions—he made one or two portraits of prominent Canadian Toronto businessmen. But the poor man, he lived in a hotel down in a rough part of the city. It was during the winter. At the end of Self Condemned, there is a big fire. The fire engines come and pour water up at the hotel, but it immediately turns to ice. So the whole hotel is frozen solid! That's Wyndham Lewis' impression of Toronto. (Laughter)

F          So Agnes Bedford was not living at Holland Place Chambers when you saw her?

S          I don't remember the address.

F          5 Holland Place Chambers was an apartment building in Kensington.

H         It was the place that Pound lived. . .

F          . . . on a courtyard . . .

H         . . . before he went to Paris. Then, when he moved out, he put Agnes in there to become a kind of away-from-home secretary. She sent him his books, and things of this sort. He wrote to her there right through the composition of the Cavalcanti, which went into 1933.

F          Pound must have been very excited that you were about to do Le Testament. Was it your project or Bridson's?

S          It was my project.1

F          How did you find Bridson then?

S        I talked to the composer Alexander Goehr, who was then working at the BBC in the Music Department, and he thought that was a wonderful idea. He took it to Bridson and Bridson got interested. The project developed from that point.

F          Well, when you saw Pound and talked to him about doing the opera, and then started work on the opera, did you have another opportunity to ask him questions about the music itself, or were you pretty much on your own?

S          I only saw him once about the opera, but we didn't have the score or anything. It was in the Library of Congress.

F          It's not clear from the Library of Congress microfilmed score what's happening. The microfilm process copies everything in black and white, but the color crayon marks were actually added in 1931 for the BBC production. You couldn't sort out the dialogue or what was supposed to happen; there were pages missing . . .

S          Exactly.

F          So, I just wondered if you had any guidance on how that was to be put together?

S          No, I didn't.

H       You know, I've long considered your remarks from the time you were with him in Brunnenburg, about how good Pound's memory was of his music.  One thinks of William Carlos Williams' remark, "Composing an opera? Why, Ezra's tone deaf!"

S          There was so much vibrato in his voice when he sang that it was sometimes hard to distinguish the notes.

H       Laughlin, in his book Pound as was, rejects the term tone-deaf. He gave him credit for the ability to go up and down with his notes. And of course, nobody's ever analysed what it means to be tone deaf. If you ask an orchestra player (I play among them all the time) to sing a melody from a famous symphony, they can play it for you on their instrument immediately, but they may not get the pitches right if they sing it. Everybody says Pound plunked out his melodies with one finger. Zukofsky says that Pound played a piece for him at the clavichord. It's so hard to know what Pound actually could do in that way, but most impressive is your mentioning that he had such a good memory that he could sing part of the opera back to you. 

S          He certainly sang things. He had a very good rhythm sense, and when he was singing, I'm not sure all the pitches were right, but the rhythms were certainly very distinct and very clear. And I guess that's what I meant in terms of his sense of recall. I don't remember this now, but I must have been looking at something while he was singing some of that material from the opera. Otherwise, why would I have written that he sang it back accurately? But what was I looking at?

H         Well, of course, if he were singing Heaulmière's aria, which he knew pretty well because there were performances of it . . .

S          There could have been a copy of it at the castle.

H         It's in the back of Guide to Kulchur, and that's '38.

S          OK, you're right, and I had my copy of that with me.

F          Did you conduct the BBC performance?

S          No. I'm not sure who conducted it. It wouldn't have been Alexander Goehr, because he was not a conductor.

F          You know, when Bridson first drew up a budget, it was quite high as a result of his argument to the comptroller that this was an important piece of music by a major poet, and should have the right financial backing and rehearsal time. Then Bridson invited Matyas Seiber to conduct the work . . .

S          Oh, yes?

F          . . . but Seiber looked at it, and decided it was too naive. The budget plunged from a respectable 1300 pounds down to 200 pounds for a song recital. You wrote back that you were against a fragmentary presentation and thought something clever might be done to salvage the situation.

S          Well, Matyas Seiber was not a conductor, really, he was a composer. He was a Hungarian immigrant who lived in London and taught composition. And he may have done a bit of conducting as well. He was probably a consultant to the BBC. He was writing music in the style of Bartok, and I can imagine him deciding it [Pound's opera] wasn't appropriate.

F          Well, did you feel that when they performed the music they were giving it short shrift, or was there no perception of a budget tightened down?

S          Well, I wasn't actually there when . . .

F          Oh, you weren't there?

S          No, I was not there when they finally did it, so I don't know how much rehearsal time they had, or just how they did it. But one thing I will say: I attempted to simplify the original when I edited it. This was the difference between my score and yours, Bob. Whether I did this because of an anticipated shortage of rehearsal time, or simply to smooth out some of the complexities, I can no longer remember.

H         You did the edition, but you didn't participate in the performance?

S          No. I was back in Canada by May, 1962.

H         So they went on their own.

S          Well, not on their own, because I'd gone through it . . .

H         It's well-notated.

S          . . . It's pretty clear. When we had our production meetings, Bridson said, "It's a radio program and I've got to produce a radio program, not an opera for the stage." So we found the old text and decided to stick that in. And he was not adverse to the modifications I'd made to simplify it. So, that's the way it was done, but I wasn't there.

H         Bridson impressed us right away in his first letters to Pound. This tremendously feisty guy was determined to introduce himself at the outset as Pound's intellectual equal.  The letters are masterpieces of forceful thinking and suggestions to an acknowledged master of the avant-garde. Bridson apparently continued to be a strong Poundian—those movies that he made, and the broadcasts. Can you tell us anything about him? You met with him?

S          Just had a couple of meetings with him. I formed no particular impression of the man.

F          Was Bridson a sort of furnish-me-the-material-and-I'll-do-something-with-it kind of person?

S          Well, he had Alexander Goehr to consult about the music after my departure. And Sandy and I had gone through the score several times together.

H         Regarding Testament, you probably got more information from somebody like Agnes Bedford . . .

S          Oh yes.

H         Bridson was just another person on the scene?

S          Yes, exactly. Miss Bedford came to one of the production meetings and told us her memories of the broadcast in 1931. We all called her Miss Bedford though she must have been seventy years old. She told us how they got the echo effects, by projecting the sound into an empty room, a sort of cistern . . . things like that.

F          Were you aware of the name Raymonde Collignon?

S          I think I met her.

F          In London?

S          Yes, she was in London at the time. She was still friendly with Agnes Bedford, and I believe I met her at her place. We must have had tea, and she told me as much as an aging soprano could tell anyone, mostly about her own career. She had many other achievements, more important to her than singing in Pound's opera.

H         Yes, though she was tremendously loyal to Pound. When he was in St. Elizabeths he had the urge to promote his musical career. He wrote Collignon, "Would she mind getting a particular song back in shape and singing it?" And she tried. But she was having problems with her health and the next day had a heart attack, which she survived. The strain was too much.

F          For the 1962 broadcast, Raymonde Collignon's song from Testament ["Voice from the church"] was given to the priest. Did Bridson ask you to do that? Did he ask you to change the dramatic parts so there'd be more for the priest? Originally, the priest just sang six bars from the "Suivez beauté."

S           I don't remember. If it was done, I'm probably the guilty one.

H       You also inherited the 1931 music for broadcast, which itself, was mostly made up of arrangements other than Antheil's. For example, the conductor Woodgate did a reduction to put the voices in unison in "Frères humains," and he put all the dissonance of the a cappella singing into the instruments. We've seen the gold score [the 1923 Pound/Antheil score, so named for the color of its cover] and a bunch of the arias are not there. It says, "Go see other manuscript." And you know, there are so many loopholes, potholes you could fall into.

S          Yes, now I think probably in answer to the earlier question, it was all rather confusing, so we turned to Agnes Bedford for solutions—she was the only person who had been at the first broadcast. "What was it like? Who sang this or that?" "Oh, well," she said, "we did it this way. We didn't do it the way it was in the score, or the way Ezra wanted it. We had to do it this way." She thought it was all great sport. She had a wonderful time reliving it. But I can just remember her enthusiasm. I can't remember how she advised us on certain things, or to what extent she influenced the actual production.

F          The gold score has a colorful history. Charles Norman was assembling his biography of Pound in the late 1950s and sent inquiries to the BBC regarding the location of the Testament score. Pound must have asked him to locate the music. But Bridson couldn't locate any music at the BBC. There's an internal memo where he warns his colleagues that they may have to confess negligence, that they'd lost the music. In fact, the British baritone Peter Pears had borrowed the music parts and taken them with him to Germany. He appears to have marked the packet of music "to BH". Then someone returned it to Boosey and Hawkes Publishers, mistaking the "BH" for them rather than for the BBC's facility Broadcasting House, which was also "BH."

But Pound also wrote Bridson, did he have the music in London? In retrospect, it seems there was some ambiguity about whether the request for music referred to the score or the music parts. Bridson assumed that the BBC probably neglected to return it to Pound following the 1931 production. But this wasn't true. There's a letter from Archie Harding to Pound that says to expect the score by registered mail. This was sometime not long after the broadcast. Bridson's inquiries did lead to the discovery and return of the parts, but not the score.

H         On one of my opera tours I visited with Donald Gallup and asked him about the score. He thought that Olga Rudge had taken the gold score to Pound when she visited Washington DC. When was that? 1952? No, her second visit in 1955 is more likely, because, according to Gallup, Pound gave the score to Sherri Martinelli as a gift. It was her idea to have the work microfilmed by the Library of Congress. She was the one who added the portrait of Pound to the cover. It's still a part of the score. Pound, as a consequence of his trial and incarceration, was legally prohibited from distributing his possessions. You know, Dorothy had power of attorney over all his decisions. But Martinelli had arranged to sell the score to Norman Holmes Pearson, who was at Yale. Dorothy, I guess, felt obligated to challenge this. She managed to get the score deposited in the Houghton Library at Harvard. When I conducted the work in 1971, Laughlin wrote me then that the score was at Harvard. But I imagine it was Gallup who arranged for the transfer of the score back to the Beinecke at Yale, to be put with the rest of Pound's archives. And that's where it is today.

F          Murray, in your book you wrote that you thought that Pound's Great Bass theory was one of the three revolutionary theories of harmony in the twentieth century. I just wanted to ask you now, that a few decades have gone by, how you look at that theory, and do you still feel the same way? Have you had any further insight into the Great Bass theory?

S          I thought his theories of Absolute Rhythm and Great Bass were very important and I compared them to Schenker at the time. I think people would have considered it absurd to compare the Schenkerian theory of harmony with Ezra Pound, but I was simply trying to make the point that both Schenker and Pound understood that harmony was really counterpoint, it was flow and motion. Pound says any two notes could follow one another provided the time interval is right. This is exactly the same sort of thing that Schenker was proving with a lot of tonal charts in his analysis of nineteenth century music.

Pound doesn't develop his theory, but the hunch was right; the intuition was right—that everything was linear, horizontal. That's what he was driving at in the theory of harmony. Compare that with what most people believed: that harmony was pure verticality. Everything, from Rameau on, was a vertical arrangement of sound. Pound, of course, never accepted that.

F          No, and he associated harmony with tempo as the great bass of the piece of music. Did you ever look into the music that you were working with to see if there was a relationship, some kind of proportion between the tempo and the line that stood out like a golden rule of proportion?

S          No, and I don't think he did either.

F          What was your impression about his mathematical sense?

S          When you listen to music, you don't hear the multiplication of frequencies in the way that he was suggesting. 

F          Do you think he thought it possible, with acute listening skills, to pick up those multiplications of frequencies?

S          How can I interpret what he thought when he wrote that? Pound used to spout a lot of ideas. It's much more likely, you know, that he picked up what he thought were good ideas out of dictionaries and from other musicians, without necessarily understanding how they would apply or how they would factor into musical composition or anything else. I think it was something he got out of Lavignac or Dolmetsch and he just repeated it.2

H         Although he intended it, and wanted it to happen, this multiplication. He himself said something like, "When we understand better the nature of overtones, we will be able to see how a masterpiece is structured from the great bass, from the most basic rhythm up through the harmonies." He admitted he couldn't do it, yet.

S          Well, that's what Schenker said, too. Schenkerian analysis is precisely that. It's the study of the harmonic development and how everything works from the bass line.

H         Margaret noticed that Henry Cowell in his New Musical Resources said basically the same thing. He doesn't use the term "great bass" but he also proposes that harmony be mathematically developed through the overtone series. There's a recent essay in Paideuma that coins a word—I don't know if it has gotten into common currency—for this. When an idea is basically in the air but not yet well defined, there is a "parafluence;" the idea occurs to more than one person at the same time. The parafluence of great bass was in Schenker, and in Henry Cowell and in Pound, and each was dealing and playing with it . . .

S          I'm sure it was. The whole thing was a resistance to vertical music; they were trying to think again more horizontally. That's why Pound hated the "pyanny," because it was a chord thing, with the melody on top. But the piano as a chord-builder was at the center of musical culture at that time.

F          I'm going to quote from your book, again, Murray. You say that Pound invoked the condition of music as a defense of vers libre. My question is, since Pound set to music only verse from earlier centuries, that was not vers libre, could you explain that statement?

S          No. (laughter) I don't even know why I said that.

F       Well, I think you're right, he was looking for new models to create patterns of poetic stress and accent. The practice of music gives him a transferable skill for composing poetry according to the sounds and durations of vowels and syllables, instead by rhyme and meter. You also mentioned that certain techniques that Pound used were perhaps similar to an earlier music technique, ars nova, which is sometimes described as the vers libre of music. Are things not kept to such rigid rhythmic intervals then?

S          In ars nova, they are.

F          Would you explain?

S         The ars nova period was a very strict period in which the melody and the rhythm were disassociated from one another, so that you could treat the rhythm independently of the melody. You could have, for instance, a sequence of, let's say, ten notes in the melody, and eleven units in the rhythm. So that, the melodic elements would assume different rhythmic characteristics each time you repeated the melody, because one is ten units long, and the other one is eleven units long. The most famous composer of the ars nova period was Guillaume de Machaut. But what was I thinking of? Pound doesn't talk about the ars nova period.

F          No.

S          I don't think he mentions it at all. Guillaume de Machaut would not have been one of his poetical enthusiasms, although he was a great poet as well as a composer. Did you know that?

F          No.

S          Oh yes, he was Chaucer's teacher.

F          Well, in your working manuscript about the Cavalcanti opera you made a point about "Donna mi prega." You wrote that the melodic cell was a particularly sophisticated invention by Pound because he considers the rhythm and melody separately in order to multiply his choices for reordering the cell.

S          That's right.

F          You then refer to ars nova; but I don't think you retroactively considered the techniques of Testament to also be related to ars nova.

S          You'd have to show me what I wrote at the time.

F        It's in your working manuscript for a second volume of Ezra Pound and Music. I think it's an important contribution to bring forward. Your point is that Pound has a lot of opportunities for invention, because he can change the melody or he can change the rhythm, or he can change both, and still have elements that are inherited from the original.

S          Yes, but I don't know of him ever having consciously discussed that.

F       As I continue to go through the music, I get the sense there's a lesson about early music inside each of these operas, perhaps more so in the Cavalcanti than in the Testament. In Testament you have the earlier li Viniers piece "Mère au Saveur." Pound states in his drama criticism that he wants to bring forward idioms that have been pretty much abandoned in the West, and bring them all together under the roof of melodrama, which he's going to redefine in his work. This is 1919. There's a kind of music lesson that's also a lesson in dramatic idioms. For example, there are different kinds of jongleurs. The gallant in Testament is from a bygone time and looks rather foolish in Paris. In Cavalcanti, it's the folksy cobbler who sings "Guarda ben dico" (Beware, I say), who's from a later century, and then there's Sordello from an earlier one. Pound wants our ear to hear that. Did he ever talk specifically about music from the 11th or 12th centuries, in contrast to the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, for example?

S        We talked a lot about music from that period. I wouldn't say that he was too specific. Don't forget that I knew him much later than the English days when he knew Dolmetsch. I suppose Dolmetsch probably was pretty specific with him: these were the people that were important; this is the music that we're trying to revive. Pound certainly knew names of people.

F          If you were to tell someone how to listen to Pound's music, what would you tell him or her?

S          The first thing would be to listen to it linearly. It's music in motion. And it's basically horizontal. And his rhythm—he had that sense of rhythm in Le Testament. I don't know about your Cavalcanti; glancing at the score, it seems a little more harmonically conditioned than the Testament.

F          Those harmonies baffled us for a long time. Bob initially offered some harmonic options to Pound's scoring because the harmonies are unusual. Later, he decided against these "corrections." Pound had a problem writing his key signatures. He would write, for example, three sharps in the clef, but in the margin to the left he'd write five sharps, that is, the number 5 and the word "sharps." He couldn't remember where to put them on the staff lines. It seemed to be a block he had.

He was proud of himself for transposing the English horn part in the score, but this led to serious questions for Bob when it was unclear whether, at times, he had forgotten his key signature, or intended something less consonant. For example, "Donna mi prega" opens on a tritone that is then consistently repeated. Bob's initial impulse was to correct the pitch to eliminate the tritone. But after we understood the poem better, we saw that the tritone was aligned with Cavalcanti's voice in the poem.

Because the music did not provide any clues, I had to develop a literary argument for the tritone, or the "devil in the scale," along the lines that Pound's depiction of Cavalcanti is derived from, and has a relationship to, his earlier portrait "Mauberley," with its reference to the tritone.

We eventually found an early music draft where Pound sketched in the violin line with the harmonies he would later orchestrate, and there was the tritone. There was no longer any question of transposition and key signatures.

I believe Pound was using harmonic devices, like tritones, as symbols. You remember his statement about a belief in "ultimate symbols"? I also think his melodic cadences ended symbolically—either on the tonic or not on the tonic—this all means something in the Cavalcanti.

S          What you're saying sums up perfectly Pound's strength and weakness for music. His aptitude was that he had good hunches about music. He had good instincts about it. As you say, in the use of the tritone, he was aware of the diabolus in musica. He read the dictionaries, he talked to musicians. But when you get to the question of where you put the sharps, that's something that a child learns in the second year of music theory, and he never did study music theory. That's the tension in Pound's music: to dare to do something original without the technique to be sure it will work. So he was struggling all the time to express himself, and he needed the help of other people. He knew that he had to trust them. For instance, we have two quite different sorts of transcriptions of his singing for Le Testament. Now, Agnes Bedford was a skilled musician; she was a pianist and an accompanist; she knew her stuff, but she wasn't a composer. Antheil was an adventurous composer of modern music, which raises the question: To what extent did his ideas of what was "modern" enter into the orchestration of Le Testament? Perhaps not too much, but Pound wouldn't have been able to know exactly what Antheil was doing. So, there are two different versions of the Testament songs. He probably didn't even realize there were two. I mean, he wouldn't have been able to say, "That's not what I sang. Listen to the rhythm again and get the dotted sixteenth note right."

H         You know, Murray, since you worked on Testament, the manuscripts, including most of the drafts and sketches, have been added to the Pound music archive at the Beinecke Library. I've had a chance to compare the Bedford and Antheil materials and have come to the conclusion that the orchestration ideas of Testament were largely in place before Antheil began work on the project. They were unusual ideas, and Pound should be given credit for the novelty in the sound of the opera. As you say, they don't reflect Antheil's own tendencies to create a modern sound in music. The idiosyncratic, pointillist orchestration and rhythmic invention was, it seems, devoted to the late troubadour sense of what was modern in Villon's time.

F         One last question about your book, Murray. You stopped short of saying in your first volume that the difficult rhythms were a kind of experiment in absolute rhythm, and I was sort of surprised. It seemed like that was the obvious conclusion to draw. What do you think about that?

S          Well, he wasn't the only one talking about that at the time. That's exactly what Stravinsky was talking about, and Schoenberg. It was a kind of notation that was going to be so exact that interpretive freedom would cease to exist and the performer would be an automaton. These ideas were floating around Paris when he was there. He knew all about that, and it fell right in with his own instinct to make things absolute.

F          By the time he wrote Guide to Kulchur, he seemed to be saying that absolute rhythm was something that not only existed in the music, but existed in the performer, too. So, in the end they weren't really independent of each other.

S          By all reports, Olga Rudge played the violin with great abandon. I can't imagine her respecting an overly-finical notation. And we shouldn't discount her influence in Pound's life. She felt she should have been consulted when we did Le Testament on the BBC. Pound, when he heard it, he said, "Get Schafer off this job." But by that time, or shortly after, Laughlin had asked me to edit the music criticism. I'd already published a long article about Pound and music. Laughlin, at my first meeting with him, said: "Now Olga's going to be a problem, because she has talked over and over again about doing the music criticism."

F          You mean, she had always intended to do it?

S        She had suggested to Laughlin that there should be a book on Pound and Music and that she should write it. But Laughlin said: "She's not capable. You're a scholar. I'm asking you to do the project. And, anyway, Dorothy will sign the contract because Dorothy is Pound's legal guardian." We had to go through Dorothy Pound because of Ezra's insanity. He couldn't sign a contract himself for anything. And that's why Laughlin said, "I think we may have a problem with Olga." And we did, because as soon as Olga found out I was doing it, she refused to cooperate in any way.

F        Hugh Kenner wrote to Bob and said something like, "You shouldn't feel badly. Olga's condemned both the Schafer version and the Hughes version of Testament."

S          Yeah, that's the way she was. Well, I guess I don't blame her. She was an older woman at that time and she was both jealous and suspicious. But you yourself said that she was very reserved, . . .

H         . . . very cautious . . .

S        . . . very cautious about big confidences and so forth, and about releasing things. She actually threatened us. It was Olga who destroyed Laughlin's idea of publishing two volumes, by saying, "I've got music. And you're not going to get it." That's what she said to him.

H         That links up with my story. After that, it took her another five years to realize, nothing's going to happen to this unless I allow somebody to do it. And that was that really cautious approach, . . .

S          So, when Laughlin said to me, "We've got to wait on the second volume until Olga makes that material available," I lost interest . . .

H         . . . and knew the amount of work. As a matter of fact, to do the complete Music Criticism, that was about ten years work on your part? I can't imagine how you did it.

S          It was a fairly long work.

H         And brilliant musical interchapters that you wrote about it. But just collecting all the reviews. . .

S          I may have missed one or two. But I think I found some that Gallup didn't have, especially when I found the Il Mare reviews.

S          I wonder how much it would cost to publish a volume of the complete music?

F          Well, one problem is, what are we going to use for Testament?

H         There are four Le Testament manuscripts. In the earliest [Yale] that he did with Agnes Bedford, Pound had already set his orchestration, which was carried forward to the Antheil score. For instance, the "Dame du Ciel" with the three basses and the bass bells was all written down in the Bedford version. The Antheil is the most difficult to perform. There's the 1926 Paris chamber concert. And the 1934 revision, which is the only complete score in Pound's actual hand. Cavalcanti really just exists in one form, and then there are about a dozen violin pieces, some of which need editing and/or completion. Margaret's going to have at least two songs from the Collis O Heliconii [Pound's unfinished third opera]. But other than that, you know, that's the complete works of Ezra Pound.

F          One of the stipulations Bob made with his performance edition of the Cavalcanti score, is that, when it's published, it must come out with his essay, which explains Pound's reasons for composing, and also explains things in the score.

S          You know, anyone undertaking a performance just wants a clean performance edition; they don't want all of the things we're talking about. They don't give a damn about that.

F          But if they hand it to a director, the director's going to say, "Well, I want to know, is Villon among the six hanged men," or "I want to know what Fortuna's doing at the end there," in the Cavalcanti. There's nothing in the music or in the dialogue that will tell a director how to stage that. Or someone will insist the opera be sung in English, which was anathema to Pound. We're thinking of self-publishing a Cavalcanti edition of 500 to 1000 and hope that somebody will pick it up after that. And we've got the concert in March [2001] coming up, we've got the CD of excerpts about to be released. It's a perfect setup for somebody to do both the full Cavalcanti on CD, and re-issue Testament or do a new Testament on its own CD. By putting out an excerpt version, we're hoping to tease someone into that next step of the project. We're hoping these are the first steps. . .

H         I'm just curious, Murray, meeting you for the first time today, and having presented you with a lot of very specific questions about your early involvement with Pound—your own book, your meeting with Pound, the BBC 1962 broadcast of Le Testament—you were composing at the same time. Patria was started around '65.

S          Right.

H         By the time you finished the book, you must have had it up to here with Pound, and your own composing career was going full guns, with more Patrias planned to come out. Probably just out of self-preservation, you've had to adapt a slightly different attitude than the years when you were actively working with Pound . . . The book came out in what, the late seventies?

S          In 1977.

H         We're wondering about the influences Pound might have had on you. Was there an influence of his ideas or aesthetics on your general outlook, your oeuvre, and how do you look back at it at this point?

S         I think the strongest influence is probably his attitude toward music and poetry, you know, motz el son, and how you put the two things together. Certainly that has affected all the vocal music that I've written. You won't find melismatic hysterias in most of my vocal works, but a real concern about intelligibility. I think that's the main thing that has remained. And the trenchant style of his prose has influenced a lot of the prose that I've written. You know how he used to punch out the sentences. Don't beat around the bush. Don't camouflage. Just state it as clearly as you can, as briefly as you can. I went back and reread all the Literary Essays about a year ago. I was astounded at how much I'd stolen from him, in the sense of ...

H         . . . clarity?

S          Yeah, clarity.

H         Getting the ideas out front.

S          Absolutely, and don't lie. You know his statement, about maintaining the cleanliness of language.3 That has influenced me a great deal.

H         Do you still read The Cantos, and how do you feel about them now?

S       Robert, I have not read them for a long time. As I said, I went back and reread the Literary Essays and that's the only rereading I've done probably in the last ten years. But I will go back to the Cantos now after our conversation. I was certainly immersed in them at one time, but then I got distracted with other things. "What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross." And there are certain things that I loved well in Pound, and that remains. I think there's a definite influence there. A lot of my music has a good sharp rhythmic quality to it.

H           Of course.

S         The string quartets, for instance, do. That comes from Pound, more than from the new music scene. You find it strange that I don't go to concerts and I don't study other composers' music. I don't even listen to it. I don't have any CD's of new music. The influences on my music come from the other arts, or from what I've read.

H         I'm rather like you in that. Some people might say to me, "You're not going to go hear Beethoven's Seventh tonight by such and such famous conductor? And I might say, no I'd rather read this, Goethe's Roman Elegies. And the reaction of the person I say this to is: "Well, how can you compare them?" but Pound would say, you could compare. You could compare by the effect they have on you. The greater the art work, doesn't matter what medium, if it has that strong effect, that you're very moved, then that's the way you should be spending your time. You spend it in your own music, what you're reading, other influences, more than music oftentimes.  . . . Now, about the Ten Centuries Concerts where, like Rapallo, you put a specimen here next to a specimen there.

S          The Ten Centuries Concerts, which I organized with a group of musicians in Toronto during the '60s, was modelled totally on Pound's notion of comparing specimens from different times and cultures. For instance, on one program we compared the music of Guillaume de Machaut with that of Webern. On another we performed Bach's Musical Offering and then gave the same melody that Frederick the Great had given to Bach to four jazz composers and they composed pieces with it. We performed folk music from the Middle East with music from medieval Europe inspired by the Crusades. Everything was comparison.

F         Murray, did you participate after the publication of the book, in any Poundian things? Did the Pound community come to you and ask you to participate?

S          Nope.

F          And were they interested in the music once the book was out?

S          No.

F          I suspected that. Bob thought it would be the other way around. Nobody wants to touch it.

S         With the exception of the rare doctoral student like Stephen Adams, some conversations with Hugh Kenner, and one or two other people, no one got in touch.

F          Did the book sell out its edition?

S          I think it's still in print. New Directions keeps things in print, unlike a lot of other publishers that just remainder things.

F          I'm just amazed. I'm making a case that the setting of "Donna mi prega" was equivalent to a second translation, and that Canto 36 is therefore, a third translation. This last translation is a more solid language; it's a more functional and contemporary language. There are certain things I think he learned by setting the poem to music that he wouldn't have known otherwise.

S          You're absolutely right. Music was so important to him, and it is being totally ignored by the literary people. They're scared of it, and they don't want the private property of Literature to be contaminated by letting musicians onto the scene.

F          Once Pound took on a subject, he didn't drop it; he kept it filtering through.

S          Absolutely.

F          That was true with drama, with music, with radio.

S         Absolutely. He had excellent instincts about music, and a real sense of taste. Look at the people that he identified in twentieth-century music who were important figures. And he was right. If you were asked today, "Who are the three greatest composers, world wide" who could do it? Pound named Bartok and Stravinsky . . . He got overly enthusiastic about Antheil, but that was forgivable. He had a wonderful instinct for music, and I think the literary people have tried to shove that aside and failed to deal with it. On the other hand, let's look at the musical community. Because the musical community has not taken the music seriously either.

F          No, not at all.

S          Well, you and Bob know a lot more than I do, because I haven't tried to thrust Pound on them, but I've certainly mentioned at different times to new music sorts of organizations, "Well, why don't you do the Pound opera next?"

H         One of the things we have to do at this stage is show how seriously Pound took his music, particularly as an exemplar of literary criticism. In my book I trace how he taught himself to compose—you mentioned Lavignac—how he went about getting his knowledge and then applying it so that it met his criteria for music and literature. Margaret is writing about the literary commentary embedded within the music. We're hoping to convince people that the value of Pound's music is more than an amateurism, and more than an amateur hour wedged between heady conference topics.

S          Fine. That's a good point. Do it.



1. The BBC Written Archive contains correspondence between Charles Norman, Pound's biographer, and Bridson, dated September 16, 1959. In this letter, Bridson informed Norman he was hoping to visit Pound in Rapallo to discuss a new production of the opera for BBC Third Programme. He followed up with a letter to Pound in November 1959, saying he had seen the microfilm of the opera score. In March 1960, Bridson invited Matyas Seiber to conduct the work. Schafer's first letter to Bridson, dated July 15, 1960, is a letter of introduction. It mentions Schafer's freelance work for the CBC, his recent visit with Dorothy Pound in Rapallo regarding the opera, and his interest in producing Le Testament for the CBC's French Network (Ezra Pound, S/W File 1953–1962, File 1, BBC Written Archive). Schafer was unaware of the correspondence between Bridson and Norman, and probably unaware that Bridson's first supervisor at the BBC was Pound's BBC producer in 1931, Archie Harding. Bridson produced Pound's Women of Trachis for Third Programme in 1954, and, in a September 7, 1959 letter to the head of the Music Department, Bridson claimed to have been planning for some years a repeat of the 1931 broadcast for Third Programme. — MF

2. Albert Lavignac was editor of the Encyclopédie de la Musique et Dictionnaire du Conservatoire. Paris: Librairie Delagrave, 1921. 377–537. Lionel de la Laurencie was founder and director. Of particular interest to Pound was Maurice Emmanuel's entry "Grèce" regarding the music of ancient Greece.

3. In Pound’s essay, "How to Read."