Ezra Pound

Cavalcanti, opera in 3 acts

    Description by Donato Mancini

    Edward Harding, the producer behind the 1926 BBC performance of Le Testament de François Villon, encouraged Ezra Pound to write his second opera, Cavalcanti, for broadcast. Pound began work on it in 1931 with typical oomph, unaware that negative responses to Le Testament were already causing Harding to regret his offer. Pound spent that entire year and more on Cavalcanti, and it cost him tremendous effort, tone-deafness being among the greatest obstacles a composer can have. He said during the period: "I live in music for days at a time." By the time he'd finished, Harding's silence on the matter made the situation clear. So the score of Cavalcanti lay dormant as the bassoon used to compose it, scattered for 30 years until Robert Hughes pieced it together for a world premiere in 1983. A sung dramedy in three acts, Cavalcanti is on the life and poetry of Guido Cavalcanti, teacher of Dante Alighieri. Wound around arias on Cavalcanti's philosophical love poems are various comical commentaries by obscure characters speaking in Provençal, English, Italian, and a pseudo-Italian invented by Pound. The drama is on the trope of the misunderstood genius, and Cavalcanti's tragic failure to pass on his poetic genes, despite the fact that he "taught Dante his job." The method used in composing it was essentially the same as in Le Testament. Pound through-composed quasi-melodic declamations on the poems that work either with, against, or in rhythmic polyphony with the poetic rhythms, depending on the effect he wanted. But Cavalcanti's verse didn't jive with the technique as Le Testament's had; Pound was forced to include two poems by the troubadour Sordello for variety. The eight conventional instruments, including violin, cello, bass, and bassoon, normally only sound alone against a solo voice, although there are some vocal duets and trios. Most significant was that he used certain musical touches -- vocal strain, tritones, octaves, and Verdi-like tenor blasts -- with specific semantic intent. But although Cavalcanti shows greater musicianship, it lacks the obnoxious charm of Le Testament. Cavalcanti was composed to be clearly audible as a 1930s radio broadcast. Without the crackling static gloss and lovely tinny compression that that technology puts on acoustic timbres -- something Pound certainly factored in -- the music is comparatively flat, save for six or so of the weirdest arias. Cavalcanti will sadly remain merely a stepsister to Le Testament until it is recorded as it was meant to be heard.


    1. Poi che di doglia
    2. Sol per pietà
    3. Gianni quel Guido
    4. Tos temps serai
    5. Ailas
    6. Quando di morte
    7. Perch'io non spero

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2003 Other Minds Records 1005