The text for Penelope's Monologue is taken from the final 46 lines of James Joyce's Ulysses. In this section, the conclusion of a lengthy "interior monologue", Molly Bloom recalls the day that Leopold, her husband (the metaphorical Ulysses of Joyce's revolutionary novel), proposed marriage to her. In choosing this particular text, I was moved by the tender sensuality of Molly's recollections as well as by the vivid imagery which streamed through her mind while considering Leopold's proposal. Even more, however, I was attracted by the rhythm of Joyce's writing - in the details and in the large structure of this monologue. The more I understood (or believed I understood) this aspect of Joyce's construction, the more clearly I was able to imagine the musical structure for Penelope's Monologue.
It was not my intention to "set" the text or to compose an accompaniment for it. Rather I tried to create a musical process that mirrored the stream of consciousness which Joyce had constructed. It seemed to me, in fact, that musical techniques were ideally suited to complement and amplify that structure. Furthermore, by fixing rhythms and pitches, I believed that music would give clear measure to the movement of Molly's thoughts and to the rise and fall of her emotions. Hence I envisioned a work in which the soprano soloist expressed the immediate surface of consciousness (Joyce's text) while the orchestra presented the subconscious context within which these thoughts occurred. Balancing these forces in different ways, I hoped to create a dramatic musical dialogue, a metaphor for the ebb and flow of thought, and, as Joyce had so poignantly done with words, an expression for that intensely bitter sweet sentiment evoked when past love is remembered and lost lovers are momentarily re-embraced by the mind.
Penelope's Monologue was completed in 1966 while I was in residence at the American Academy in Rome as a recipient of the Rome Prize in Musical Composition. During this period I assimilated a number of new compositional techniques found in the European avant-garde music of the time. These, along with my love for Alban Berg's Wozzeck, remain imprinted on the score. If the music succeeds in transcending those stylistic traits, it is due most certainly to the beauty and inspiration provided by Joyce's remarkable text. The work was premiered on July 2, 1966, by the Rome Radio Orchestra (RAI). Ferruccio Scaglia was the conductor and Margherita Kalmus was the soprano soloist.
March 3, 2004
Penelope's Monologue for Soprano and Orchestra: Mp3 (13,5 MB, Complete)
YouTube Video of Penelope's Monologue with text overlay