The Crack in the Bell Redux

For the first time I’ve repeated a work on Postclassic Radio. It’s Daniel Lentz’s The Crack in the Bell, and I aired it last September, but I listened to it again last night, and it’s just too beautiful, and not nearly enough well known. It’s a setting of e. e. cummings’s classic antiwar poem “next to of course god america i”:

“next to of course god america i

love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh

say can you see by the dawn’s early my

country tis of centuries come and go

and are no more what of it we should worry

in every language even deafanddumb

thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry

by jingo by gee by gosh by gum

why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-

iful than these heroic happy dead

who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter

they did not stop to think they died instead….

Lentz matches cummings’s irony with a deadpan but glitzy setting, with a driving pop energy breaking into passages of glorious Renaissance counterpoint on the word “beauty.” The piece is hilariously tongue-in-cheek yet sumptuously written, and its use of synthesizers and delay units in a large-ensemble context is elegant and innovative. Some people don’t like the voice and intonation of vocalist Jessica Lowe on this (the only) recording (originally on EMI, now rereleased on Lentz’s Aeode label), but those people’s expectations are too classical. I think she’s perfect for the piece, with just the cheesy insouciance to undermine cummings’s surface meaning. As far as I’m concerned, a society in which Le Marteau sans Maitre is famous and The Crack in the Bell isn’t has its values upside down, and so you can check out that opinion, I’ll also post the mp3 to my web page, here.

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