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Sitwell and Walton -- Facade with Edith Sitwell and Peter Pears

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Uploaded on Jun 25, 2009

Facade, An Entertainment-- poems by Edith Sitwell (first picture), music by William Walton (second picture); Edith Sitwell and Peter Pears, reciters; Anthony Collins conducting The English Opera Group Ensemble; a British Decca recording, made in 1953, issued in the United States on London long-play disc A4104.
The selections presented here are--
Orchestral Fanfare;
Poem 3, Mariner Man ("What are you staring at, mariner man..."), recited by Sitwell;
Poem 6, Tango-Pasodoble ("When Don Pasquito arrived at the seaside..."), recited by Pears;
Poem 7, Lullaby For Jumbo ("Jumbo asleep! Grey leaves thick-furred as his ears..."), recited by Sitwell;
Poem 16, Valse ("Daisy and Lily, lazy and silly, walk by the shore..."), recited by Sitwell;
Poem 21, Sir Beelzebub ("When Sir Beelzebub called for his syllabub in the hotel in Hell..."), recited by Pears.
The work was created by Edith Sitwell and William Walton during the time Walton was sharing a house with Edith's brothers, Osbert and Sacheverell; the poems were not set to music for singing, but rather intended for recitation accompanied by music. The premiere took place in the drawing room of the house in 1922, the public premiere in 1923. The poetry and the music were changed over the years, Dame Edith's final choice of poems, numbering 21, being established in 1942, and the final score published in 1951, from the music of which Sir William composed purely orchestral suites.
The poems, Dame Edith states, "are abstract poems-- that is, they are patterns in sound... experiments... enquiries into the effect on rhythm, and on speed, of the use of rhymes, assonances and dissonances, placed outwardly and inwardly (at different places in the line) and in most elaborate patterns." Undeterred, there are those who determinedly demand an answer to the question "But what do the poems mean?" and who, psycho-cartographically, attempt to map the sweeping terrain of Dame Edith's mind (see 'Facade, Edith Sitwell, With An Interpretation By Pamela Hunter [an actress who portrayed the poet on stage and television]', Duckworth, 1987).
I prefer to take the poet at her word, the simpler, if possibly naive, approach suggested by her own commentary and expanded upon in an essay on the Web site of The Guardian (UK) newspaper-- Dame Edith as a word-playing rapper! Perhaps the very earliest, and certainly among the very best.
While contemporary rap began in New York City during the late 1970s as social-protest verses-- and versus-- accentuated with percussion, much of it is now word-play, and some-- the more creative and clean-- seemingly the sort of thing Dame Edith had in mind. "The words to [her] poems were chosen for their sound, colour and rhythm, and make very little sense. [T]hey conjure up a sense of wonderment and weirdness..." (see 'Strictly Old Skool!' by John Moore, in Music, guardian.co.uk, posted 30 January 2007). So, "Rap music was invented in England by Dame Edith Sitwell in 1922...." And that is the end of the news, from London.

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