Sometimes wonderful pieces of literature inspire other wonderful pieces of art. One of my favorites in this vein is Eleanor Steber’s recording of Samuel Barber’s remarkable piece, “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” itself inspired by a short, but astonishingly beautiful, passage which appears early in James Agee’s novel, A Death in the Family (recommended without reservation). Rufus, Agee’s stand-in persona in the book, is recalling the long vanished, lovely, achingly sweet evenings he spent with his family when he was about ten, not long before his father would be killed in a freak automobile accident. Steber, one of the great sopranos of her time, loved the book and this passage so much she asked Barber to compose something based on it. He did as she asked and, not long after, she recorded it for Columbia Records with William Stickland conducting a chamber orchestra. Her rendition, like Agree’s passage, is achingly beautiful, capturing the vanished, lamented, moments exquisitely. If you’d like to hear her interpretation, click:
As it happens, Mr. Ruskin has been the source of a similar musical tribute. His story, “The King of the Golden River,” written for Effie Gray almost a hundred years ago, the story which was the centerpiece of our last post (#129 ), so moved British composer, Sarah Rodgers, that she wrote a piece celebrating it. Not long ago, her composition was performed by the tenor Richard Edgar-Wilson, accompanied by the Coull Quartet. I thought you might enjoy it especially in light of having read Mr. Ruskin’s tale. To listen, click on the link below. (As with the Steber piece, you will need to endue a few seconds of jarring advertisement before you will be allowed to click through to the performance–but the brief wait is well worth it!):
If you’d like to find out more about Sarah Rodgers and her work, click here:
Next, here’s a link to our tenor:
Finally, here’s one for the Coull Quartet:
My abiding thanks to Gabriel Meyer for suggesting that I post something pointing us to Mr. Ruskin’s regularly overlooked “King” story. More thanks are due him for giving me with a link to the recording. Thanks must go as well to Charlotte Hegyi, a marvelous classical musician in her own right, who informed how to accurately label this lovely composition in today’s title!
Be well out there while our summer wanes.
Until next time!