Within a month of publishing his notorious collection Les Fleurs du mal (“Flowers of Evil,” 1857), the French poet Charles Baudelaire was charged with insulting public decency and ordered to remove six works from subsequent editions. Yet Baudelaire’s poems, which centered on themes of eroticism and mortality, would influence generations of writers, from Arthur Rimbaud and Marcel Proust to Walter Benjamin and H.P. Lovecraft.
Now St. Louis composer Harold Blumenfeld, professor emeritus of music in Arts & Sciences, has recorded a major new work based on Les Fleurs du mal. Titled Vers Sataniques (“Satanic Verse”), the half-hour-long work — for large orchestra with baritone and mezzo coloratura — is the centerpiece of Blumenfeld’s latest CD (Albany Records: Troy 1034) , which also includes settings of Rimbaud and of the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott.
At 8 p.m. Oct. 13 the Department of Music will highlight Vers Sataniques as part of “A Mixed Media Celebration: Harold Blumenfeld’s Latest Works.” The multimedia concert will combine film, audio and live performance and takes place in the Uncas A. Whitaker Hall for Biomedical Engineering auditorium.
The program will open with “Being Beauteous” (c. 1980), the first of Blumenfeld’s many settings of Rimbaud. Performers will be the soprano Tamara Campbell, who is associated with the music faculty; cellist Bjorn Ranheim, of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra: and pianist Seth Carlin, professor of music.
Next on the program will be filmed excerpts from Blumenfeld’s full-length opera Seasons in Hell, which traces Rimbaud’s adolescent adventures as well as his disastrous fortune-seeking in Africa. (The opera was produced and filmed in 1996 by the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, with Gerhard Samuel conducting and staging by Malcolm Fraser.)
Guest baritone Donnie Ray Albert will then sing Sterne und Stein (2004), a short song cycle based on poems by Blumenfeld’s friend Rudolf Gelpke, the Swiss-born Farsi scholar.
The program will conclude with excerpts from Vers Sataniques, which Blumenfeld recorded in 2007 with the National Radio Orchestra of Poland, under the baton of Joel Eric Suben. Vocalists were Albert and mezzo-coloratura Christine Schadeberg. The suite is based on three works from Les Fleurs du mal: the languorous Le Jet d’eau (“The Fountain”), the terrifying death-poem L’Horloge (“The Clock”) and, after a brief orchestral interlude, the wistful La Vie antérieure (“Past Life”), a remembrance from the far side of the tomb.
“Baudelaire is a fantastic poet and La Vie antérieure is surely one of his highest achievements,” explains Blumenfeld, who first attempted to adapt the poet in the early 1980s but was unsatisfied with the result. “I was very drawn to him but just wasn’t ready to compose it.” Then in 1995, while living in Cassis, France, Blumenfeld began work on Vers Sataniques, finishing it — he thought — two years later.
Blumenfeld met Suben, who specializes in recording American works with Eastern European orchestras, in 2003, when the New York City Opera debuted Blumenfeld’s Borgia Infami, based on the infamously corrupt Renaissance family. “Joel was very enthusiastic and we began plotting to work together.” In 2007 Blumenfeld returned to Vers Sataniques, revising it three times before arriving at its present form, while Suben enlisted the National Radio Orchestra of Poland. Recording was completed in early November in the city of Katowice.
“All the plane schedules and train schedules — I was a nervous wreck,” Blumenfeld admits with a laugh. “We had Donnie coming from Dresden and Christine coming from Washington D.C. But it all came off beautifully.”
“A Mixed Media Celebration” is free and open to the public. Whitaker Hall is located at the intersection of Forest Park Parkway and Hoyt Drive. Texts and translations of works in French and German will be projected on a large screen above the performers.
For more information, call (314) 935-5566 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Department of Music in Arts & Sciences
WHAT: “A Mixed Media Celebration: Harold Blumenfeld’s Latest Works.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 13
WHERE: Uncas A. Whitaker Hall for Biomedical Engineering, intersection of Forest Park Parkway and Hoyt Drive
SPONSOR: Department of Music in Arts & Sciences
INFORMATION: (314) 935-5566 or email email@example.com.