Jennifer Stevenson
Musical Invective (2022)

Jennifer Stevenson.jpeg

There are many great composers we all revere. We've heard the three Bs - Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms - and some of the most famous and programmed composers of the world. But fame does not equal popularity, and critics of the day had many scathing things to say about these artists.

Inspired the the male critic who also inspired the namesake of Whistling Hens, Musical Invective is a multi-movement collection of stinging reviews meant to amuse and bemuse audience members and music lovers by recounting critics' biting words in a vignette in the style of each composer described.

 

I. Beethoven

II. Debussy

III. Webern

IV. L. Boulanger

V. Gershwin

This commission is sponsored by Mr. Wesley Green of Tucson, Arizona, and it was premiered on September 29, 2022 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Citations:

I. Beethoven

Die Zweite Symphonie ist ein krasses Ungeheuer, ein angestochener, sich unbänding windender Lindwurm, der nicht ersterben will und selbst verblutend im Finale noch mit aufgerecktem Schweife wütend um sich schlägt.

 

Zeitung für die Elegente Welt, Vienna, May 1804

 

[Beethoven's Second Symphony's a big crass monster, a hideously writhing wounded dragon, that refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the Finale, furiously beats about with its tail erect.]

 

II. Debussy

Debussy's L'après-midi d'un faune... The faun must have had a terrible afternoon... the poor beast brayed...and whinnied...and avoided all trace of...melody... The work gives as much dissonance as any of the most modern...works... all these...spasms!... When will the melodist of the future arrive?

 

Louis Elson, Boston Daily Advertiser, February 25, 1904

 

III. Webern

The program spoke of 'tonal pointilism,' 'tonal fractions' and 'differentials.' What the audience heard suggested odd sounds in an old house when the wind moans, the floors creak, the shades rustle, and the doors... alternately creak and croon. The work had von Webern's cardinal merit of brevity.

 

Oscar Thompson, New York Evening Post, December 19, 1929

 

IV. L. Boulanger

When a hen whistles there is consternation in the coop. ...The...hen in this case was Lilli Boulanger... The composer wanders, pecking at all the shining motives that tempt her. Isolde moans... [Faust] snores... Incoherency rules the vocal parts... Clever girl, but your music is Wagner réchauffée... More's the pity that she died so young... But women composers are at best whistling hens.

 

James Gibbons Hunekor, New York Times, December 27, 1918

 

V. Gershwin

How trite...feeble...and conventional... How [fussy, futile and] sentimental and vapid... Weep over the lifelessness of melody...so derivative, so stale, so inexpressive!

 

Lawrence Gilman, New York Tribune, February 13, 1924

 

-with great appreciation to Nicolas Slonimsky, author of Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven's Time

Letter from Beirut (2021)

Letter from Beirut was a finalist in the Composition Competition at the Darkwater Womxn in Music Festival in 2021. Written for Whistling Hens as a result of the Darkwater Festival's call for scores, it was premiered by Whistling Hens on September 25, 2021 at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

When asked about her culture in a 2019 interview, the poet Lory Bedikian replied, “The word  ‘Armenian’ itself carries so much weight. It’s full of stone, dust, haunting faces, and shrill music— sometimes laughter. I can’t name it. I’m stuck just at the mention of the word itself. Let me answer by  explaining that what I write is immensely informed by the fact that I’m the daughter of immigrants...”  


Twining the melody of the ancient Armenian lullaby “Oror im Pahlahs” with duduk inspired  ornamentation, Stevenson captures this weight of history that Lory describes.  


While extended techniques are in no way required for a successful performance of the piece, the composer encourages vibrato, at times quite wide/fast, on the part of the clarinetist. Especially in the final bars of  the piece, the clarinet part should feel as if it's being improvised.

About the Poet

Lory Bedikian received her BA from UCLA with an emphasis in Creative Writing and Poetry. During her time at UCLA, she was twice nominated for the Ina Coolbrith Memorial Prize in Poetry. She earned her MFA in Poetry from the University of Oregon, where she received the Dan Kimble First Year Teaching Award for Poetry. Her manuscript has been selected several times as a finalist in both the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition and in the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award Competition.

 

She has received grants from the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial fund and from AFFMA: Arpa Film Foundation for Music & Art. Her poems have been published in the Connecticut Review, Portland Review, Poetry International, Poet Lore and Heliotrope among other journals and have been included in Blue Arc West: An Anthology of California Poets. Poets & Writers chose her work as a finalist for the 2010 California Writers Exchange Award. Bedikian's The Book of Lamenting won the 2010 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. She currently teaches poetry workshops in Los Angeles.

Lory Bedikian.jpeg

Dear Cousin - 

The country is on fire again. 

Today, rockets hit nearby. 

Lebanon is so small 

everything can be heard. 

For years we have known 

the language of bombs. 

But tonight, tonight it is quiet. 

The country is falling. 

People have fled their homes. 

Children are dead. 

Here, in the eastern part, 

we are safe, for now. 

Sorry for writing you late. 

Everything is shut down. 

I have no work. 

Indoors most of the time. 

We sit and wait for news. 

Our lights flicker on and off 

like the winter moon. 

People's hearts have turned 

hard as rocks. No one walks 

the streets. Only the old men 

at the corner argue until dusk. 

They are so close to death, 

they don't tremble as we do. 

For now, this much. 

It is difficult to write. 

Our ears are accustomed  

to explosions and running feet. 

But tonight, tonight it is so quiet,

so silent you could hear 

the strike of a match. 

-Lory Bedikian