130: The King of the Golden River (A Composition for Tenor and String Quartet)


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 sweet evenings he spent with his family when he was about ten, not long before his father would to 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 requested, and, not long after, Steber recorded his composition 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. What gives it its timeless quality is its ability to evoke those lost lovely moments of childhood (whether real or wished) in all of us. If you’d like to hear the piece, click on the link below:

Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (Steber/Barber)

As it happens, Mr. Ruskin has been recently the source of a similar musical tribute. His story, “The King of the Golden River,” written for Effie Gray almost a hundred years ago, was the raison d’etre of  our last post (#129 ). The tale 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, and accompanied by the Coull Quartet. I thought you might enjoy listening to it especially in light of just having read Mr. Ruskin’s fable. To do that, click on the following link. (As with the Steber piece, you’ll have to endue a few seconds of jarring advertisement before being allowed to click through to the performance–but the lesson in patience will be well worth it!)

The King of the Goldern River (Composition)

If you’d like tolearn more about Sarah Rodgers and her work, click here:

Sarah Rodgers, Composer

And here’s a link to our tenor:

Richard Edgar-Wilson, Tenor

Finally, here’s one for the Coull Quartet:

The Coull Quartet

My abiding thanks to Gabriel Meyer for suggesting that I post something leading us to Mr. Ruskin’s much ignored “King” story. More thanks are due him for providing me with a link to the recording. Thanks must go as well to a dear friend, Charlotte Hegyi, a marvelous musician in her own right, who told me how to accurately label this lovely composition!

Be well out there as summer wanes.

Until next time!





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