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EXPLORING MUSIC :POWERFUL AND COMPELLING SCORES /Richard Peaslee

The MHS Review 394 Vol. 11 No. 16, 1987

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Robert Maxwell Stern

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Richard Peaslee is the composer under consideration here. I'm sure he is best remembered by all as the composer of the raunchy and stirring score of songs used in Peter Weiss' enormously successful play Marat/Sade. The Garden of Earthly Delights, a dance/play based upon the pain­tings of Hieronymus Bosch, is composed in four parts--"Eden," "The Garden," "The Seven Sins," and "Hell"-and its visual treatment (by Manha Clarke) bears a bit of explanation.


An ethereal choir of wind and brass in­troduces Eden; seen are dancers clad in white leotards delicately wandering about on their fingers and toes much like fauns in a lea. A musician appears onstage and puts his marimba under one of the dancer's legs and begins to play her. Another musi­cian is seen, and he turns another dancer into his cello.


Soon Adam and Eve are introduced to the stage to enact their agony in the "Garden" sequence. Upon their banish­ment from the garden they metamor­phasize into boats and sail away from Eden. Two nymphs then appear whipping themselves with olive branches; a woman transforms into a tree; and a man (perhaps a Christ figure) is led onto the stage lash­ed to a large pole. The music then becomes percussive and dissonant as the scene changes to a picture reminiscent of Puritan New England, where grotesque figures pour potatoes from burlap bags onto the stage.


All sorts of bodily functions are then depicted in "The Seven Sins" sequence. The music swells to a rhythmic shriek. One character pounds a bass drum and then uses it to crush another character. The dancers rotate in the air much like celestial bodies and all Hell breaks loose. One man assaults the eyes of another with a stick; another pounds a nail into someone's head; the "Dies Irae" is played on chimes as a fight over those chimes is going on; and ultimately the two battling over the chimes kill one another with the mallets.


The original theme depicting Eden then returns, played now on a solo cello, and a woman emerges to pull the cellist's arm, thereby ruining his solo. The music becomes ugly and ominous. The woman grabs the cello, breaks its strings, and destroys the bow. The cellist stabs her with the pointed tip of the instrument and plucks the remainder of his cello as the of­fending woman writhes to her death. The man is hanged as a chorus of flying figures surround him. WOW!


When Vienna:Lusthaus opened during the 1986 Off-Broadway season, producer Joseph Papp had inserts of a "Dear Patron" nature slipped into the program booklets asking the audience not to be shocked, disturbed, or surprised by the goings-on about to be seen. The piece is named after the pleasure pavilion in the Prater and is set in the Vienna of Freud, Wittgenstein, Herzl, and Hitler. There is no story line per se in this theater piece but rather a depic­tion in words, dance, and music of the moral and cultural decay of Vienna.


Pre-World War I Vienna was a city in a state of philosophical limbo. Its cultural leaders were overly interested in drastic change and desire: Freud wanted to do away with the veil of repression; Wittgens­tein wanted to do away with the ambigui­ty of language; Schoenberg wanted to do away with the tonal structure of music; Schnitzler wanted to do away with the hypocrisy of official morality.


The Viennese of Vienna:Lusthaus do away with the frills and ornaments of Vic­torian mufti down to the bare skin. They hesitate, they are abashed; they, in their nakedness, don't feel that this is the way they were created, but rather feel naked. Their feelings of repression and morality are overbearing. Richard Peaslee compos­ed this piece, as he put it, "with the aid of Johann Sebastian Bach, Eugene Friesen, and Johann Strauss" and used their themes and pieces as a point of irony to the activity on the stage.


Both scores are skillfully composed and, with a bit of background information, most powerful and compelling. The art of in­cidental music to dramatic presentations is, nowadays, rare; but certainly, as presented here, it is not dead.


Review of Music for Martha Clarke's The Garden of Earthly Delights Vienna:Lusthaus pg 67

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