Soprano Bethany Beardslee
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
|Bethany Beardslee (born December
25, 1925) is an American soprano particularly noted for her
collaborations with major 20th-century composers, such as Igor
Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, George Perle, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
and her performances of great contemporary classical music by Arnold
Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern. Her legacy amongst midcentury
composers was as a "composer's singer"—for her commitment to the
highest art of new music. Milton Babbitt said of her "She manages to
learn music no one else in the world can. She can work, work, work." In
a 1961 interview for Newsweek, Beardslee flaunted her unflinching
repertoire and disdain for commercialism: "I don't think in terms of
the public... Music is for the musicians. If the public wants to come
along and study it, fine. I don't go and try to tell a scientist his
business because I don't know anything about it. Music is just the same
way. Music is not entertainment."
Beardslee was born in Lansing, Michigan. She trained first in the Music
Department of Michigan State College, where she received her B.M. (cum
laude), and later did post-graduate work at the Juilliard School. She
trained with Louise Zemlinsky (wife of Alexander Zemlinsky). She
received an honorary doctorate from Princeton University in 1978, an
honorary Ph.D. from the New School for Music Philadelphia, PA in 1984,
and from the New England Conservatory in 1994.
Her first husband, the French conductor Jacques-Louis Monod, whom she
married in 1951, introduced her to the basic vocal repertoire of the
Second Viennese School. Together they toured the United States through
the 1950s and gave recitals of this literature combined with basic
Lieder. Monod's influence brought Beardslee onto the path that would
become her career in contemporary classical music.
In 1956, she married the composer Godfrey Winham, a pioneer in the
research of computer music of the period. They have two children, Baird
and Christopher Winham. Godfrey Winham died in 1975.
She retired officially in 1984, though she performed a number of times
in the decade that followed. Her final public performance was 1993 at
the Weill Recital Hall in New York City. About that performance, Alex
Ross wrote in The New York Times that "the legendary soprano Bethany
Beardslee-Winham, now well into her sixties, remains a compelling
interpreter of new music."
In retirement, she was president of APNM (Association for the
Publication of New Music) and produced a number of CDs of her own
performances, as well as the compositions of her late husband Godfrey
Winham, and her friend Arlene Zallman.
Her virtuosity is displayed in many recordings of music of the Second
Viennese School as well as works written for her, notably Milton
Babbitt's Philomel. During
the 1950s, she performed world premieres and made historic recordings
of music of the Second Viennese School.
In 1962 she was given the American Composers Alliance Laurel Leaf Award
for "distinguished achievement in fostering and encouraging American
Beardslee's recording with Robert Craft of Schoenberg's "Pierrot
Lunaire" (Columbia Records, 1961) was a milestone in 20th-century
music. It was the first recording of the piece that used the
sprechstimme in the way that Schoenberg had conceived the piece. Craft,
who conducted it, said to Beardslee that "your performance is the first
that anyone can listen to beginning to end with total pleasure and
belief in the spreschstimme medium. You have made a permanent
document." It was also the recording used by Glen Tetley when he
choreographed Pierrot Lunaire. In 1977-78, Rudolf Nureyev, dancing
Tetley's choreography to Beardslee's live performances, appeared
together in New York, Los Angeles, and Paris. Beardslee went on to
perform "Pierrot" over fifty times in the US and abroad.
-- Names which are links
(both in this box and in the text below) refer to my interviews
elsewhere on this website. BD
In June of 1995, Beardslee was back in Chicago for a visit, and we met
at the studios of WNIB, Classical 97. Naturally, I asked quite a
bit about the new music scores she had sung, but we also talked of
While setting up, we were speaking about new versions and new stagings
of operas . . . . . . .
I think that there are some stagings that do work. I saw a
staging of Götterdämmerung
that von Karajan did. It was very successful, but it was done in
a very abstract way. I think with Peter Sellars, he gets too
close to the bone. He really changes the time of Mozart, and
brings it into the modern times. I don’t really approve of
that. I still like to see it in its time
should be eighteenth century.
How much pushing and pulling can you do of stage direction, and the
follow up question would be how much pushing and pulling can be done of
the actual musical line?
really a purist, I guess, so not too much! I think we
should try and stay as much as we can in the composer’s head.
Wagner built Bayreuth. He conceived of Bayreuth with the idea
that a lyric soprano could sing Isolde if she had the stamina to do the
long amounts of singing that occur in that role. That’s really
what’s sometimes the hard part.
BD: Lilli Lehmann
was fond of saying that singing Norma
was even worse than singing three of the Wagner roles, so maybe Wagner
needed a Norma for it.
Exactly, and Traviata,
too. It’s not easy. Violetta is a big role.
Violetta needs something different for each of the three acts.
always thought it would be wonderful to hear Butterfly done with a
change of vocal quality that would occur. She would be first a
very bright, young, girlish sound, and then as the opera develops, by
the time she gets to the scene where she commits suicide, the voice
would take on all kinds of tragic vocal qualities. But no one has
ever done it, as far as I know.
BD: You mean
Vocally different in timbre. You could do that because she’s
oriental, and Orientals pick up a very high and bright quality of their
language which lends itself to that. But that’s just an idea off
the top of my head. In the past three years I’ve been teaching,
and I have learned that there are many different types of voice
qualities that the singer can use.
BD: Have you
been teaching voice, or stagecraft?
BD: Maybe you
should become a stage director.
think that’s beyond me because you really have to have a sense of all
the different aspects, including a sense of acting and so forth.
That would be impossible for me. You don’t just jump into these
things, although some singers do, like Scotto, who is now
beginning to stage things, but she’s had a tremendous wealth of singing
on the stage, and she’s an extremely serious musician, and a very
intelligent musician. I think she will make a good stage director.
BD: Did you
do much opera in your career, or was it mostly concerts?
mostly concerts. I did a lot of chamber music and a lot of
recitals and orchestra concerts.
BD: Was that
satisfying to be on the stage as yourself rather than as Butterfly or
as Traviata or Isolde?
Well, it’s different, isn’t it? It’s a whole different
feeling. I think it would be wonderful to be an opera
singer. It’s the dimension that I’ve missed, although I have sung
opera but not in the sense of the big time.
BD: You know
the various ways that composers are writing for the voice now.
Will those ways work well on the opera stage or are those much more
suited for concerts and recitals?
we’re getting into compositional styles of various composers. Had
you someone in mind?
Especially the ones that you’ve sung, but you’ve had such a range of
composers and such a range of styles.
really. When I began singing, I devoted practically all of my
work to the Viennese School and to young American composers that were
then the serious composers of the ‘50s. Most of my work has been
really involved with chamber pieces and new song cycles, and things
like that. But at the time I started, no one was doing
contemporary music much, so I sort of had the field to myself.
This was in New York in 1950. I think the first piece I sang was
by Ben Weber. I met a wonderful musician who I married, and we
worked together as a duo. We used to tour and do whole concerts
of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern songs.
BD: Did the
audience get those?
was mostly for college audiences and New York audiences, who are very
much involved in the mainstream which was Schoenberg and Copland and
Hindemith. They were the big ‘father figures’ that people like Elliott Carter and
Milton Babbitt and Earl
Kim and a lot of them were following, and who had a really, what I
feel is almost missing for the young composer today. They had
real father figures who were in the mainstream of serious
composition. Stravinsky was alive at that time, too.
BD: Is there
any way of getting back to this, or have we lost this?
lost. There’s so much fragmentation now. Developmental
music is such that it does not mean what it did then.
BD: Back then
was it meaning one kind of direction, and now it means scatter-shot?
yes. Now there are so many different styles and mediums.
There’s all kinds of music being written now. I think we’re going
through a big transitional period, and eventually it will come
around. We may have a whole new rebirth of tonality for all we
know. Maybe a new system will emerge, or computer music will be
the common idiom.
BD: Will that
be a good thing, a bad thing or just a thing?
a thing. One thing we can always count on is that things are
always changing! [Both laugh]
BD: But the
more things change, the more things stay the same!
wait a minute...
BD: Plus ça change, plus c’est
la même chose!
[The more things change, the more they stay the same.]
BD: I just
wondered if that was the other side of that coin?
don’t know, but I think the next hundred years are going to be very
interesting in many, many ways with the big field of technology that’s
now really becoming part of our society.
BD: I wonder
if we will lose the humanity in it?
That’s what they say. I don’t know. I just don’t know.
BD: [With a
gentle nudge] Oh, gaze into your crystal ball!
Well, I tell you something. I feel now like an antique.
When I see the young composers and all the things that are going on
with the music scene, I really feel that I’m part of the past.
Although people come up to me still and say, “I
remember you when I heard you do such and such,”
I still feel that I’m part of the past. We’re moving on.
BD: But you
are part of a glorious past!
yes. I had a wonderful career.
BD: Does it
please you that at least some of this glorious past is going to live
perhaps forever on recordings?
my only archive I have left. I’ve had a wonderful career.
This is just my own philosophy as a performer, that the greatest thing
you can do as a performer is to be part of the music of your
time. It was always that way before up until Mahler.
Someone like Joan
Sutherland, who I admire very much, to me is an oddity because she,
as a musical personality, revived this whole school of opera
singing. She was totally immersed in that, and she never, ever
ventured out of it, whereas performers really up until then were always
caught in the new pieces that were being premiered, and were part of
it. So in a way I always felt that I was not the odd-ball,
although the singers told me I was an odd-ball. I always thought
that I wasn’t the odd-ball, but that they were the odd-balls because
they were specializing in Rossini or Verdi.
BD: What if,
a hundred and fifty years from now, someone was to revive all of the
music that you sang, and sing that exclusively?
not! It could be. Yes! I’m sure that’s going to
happen. I worry a great deal about what I call the continuation
and the support for the orchestra and the opera house because they
really are nineteenth century antiques in a way. It’s only
because we have tremendous access to FM stations — like
your own — and CDs. The technology is
helping to keep them going, but they really are playing so little of
the music that’s been written right now, that if they die that’ll be
why. In Europe there’s more support for the music of today.
talking about singers, both wonderful and perhaps not so
wonderful. Without naming names, are we getting wonderful singers
coming along today?
of the problems that I’m hearing a lot in singing today is that the
singers aren’t using their ears enough. I used to work
unaccompanied, and I work slowly. I hear a lot of what I call
‘fast-learn’. They are put under such an amount of pressure that
they don’t have the time they used to have to prepare things.
Especially once the singers makes names for themselves, the stress of
flying and not staying in one place long enough also takes a
BD: So the
career itself just becomes too much to do?
but there are certain things that I don’t hear in singing which I would
like to hear more of, and that’s because I’m hearing a lot of singers
do the literature that I did of the Viennese School. I have
certain reservations about those recordings that I’ve heard because of
the fact that a lot of the dynamics that Berg wrote in some of his
music are not observed. When you sing some of this music, there’s
the sense of tuning — where you really tune
intervals — so that harmonically they really are
so musical and so part of the phrase that it sounds like classical
music. You do that intuitively when you sing classical music just
because those are the systems that are part of you and you know them so
well. But that’s not always true when you get into atonal music,
and when you get into twelve-tone you should sing it just like you do
Schubert and Mozart. But they don’t. They sing
pitches. You’ll find this is quite true also with people who have
absolute pitch. They don’t tune because if you have good relative
pitch, you hear a pitch as leading to another pitch.
BD: Part of a
Exactly, and all pitches are either leading to or resting or going to
or coming from. You always have that in music because nothing
stands still. It’s hard to explain, but that’s one thing I don’t
hear in the singers. Even when they’re doing classical music, I
don’t hear that as much as I’d like to. But that’s something I
worked in and thought about a great deal.
BD: Is it
maybe that the singers are so happy to be able to get each pitch
accurately but then they figure that’s the end rather than that being
No. It’s gray singing. They don’t really believe in the
pitch that they’re singing. They approximate, and you can
tell. When you have really learned a piece of modern music, when
you know it really so well and you know the instrumental parts as well
because you’ve heard it so many times and you’ve rehearsed it many,
many times, then you begin to sing it musically. But it takes a
lot of rehearsal, and what opera house can afford rehearsals?
They are very expensive.
BD: But for a
concert, do you not have the rehearsal time in the studio?
always demanded that, and I was very fortunate. I worked with a
lot of wonderful freelance players in New York and also here in Chicago
where I sang many, many times. I worked with wonderful conductors
like Ralph Shapey, and they worked over and over something until they
really played it like music. And that’s the only way you can do
it with new music — you have to give it
time. You have to really believe it. When you walk out on
stage, you’ve done it so many times that you own it. That’s the
way I used to feel about the music that I worked on.
without mentioning specific names, were there pieces perhaps that you
worked on and felt you couldn’t own so you didn’t perform them?
always made the piece your own every time?
Absolutely, yes. And the interesting thing is I like to work
unaccompanied. The reason I did that was because you must always
recheck the line and always make sure that it’s absolutely true.
That’s why you must use your ear all the time as a singer. You
can’t work with just pianists all the time. You can’t always have
a rehearsal pianist right there because you have to be able to work
where the ear is so aware of what you’re singing, because we hear
ourselves differently than instrumentalists. We hear ourselves by
the bones of our face often when we’re singing. We have to have a
third ear unless we really are listening very carefully, and we don’t
often have a good coach to correct those pitches.
BD: Why can’t
the composer shake the performers by the lapels to get them to do it
right, or do it with feeling, or simply get into it?
Because they’re so happy just to have the performance. They’re so
grateful. Some composers are that way. I have worked with
wonderful composers who did not let a single thing go by, and I admire
back to the idea of stretching a little bit, when the composer gives
you the piece of music, must you perform it exactly as he has written
it, or do you bring something of yourself to it and make it a
Bethany: You always
bring something of yourself to it. That’s the one thing that’s so
wonderful about the human voice. You have your own timbre, and
it’s uniquely yours. No one has your sound, so as far as your
gift, your artistry, that’s a unique talent. All those
things. I’ve always told my students, even when they’re working
on a Schubert song, once the work is over, then you’ve got to feel as
though when you perform that song it’s the first time you’ve done it,
and that spontaneity has to be there. It has to be as though the
whole thing was just spatial, and this music was absolutely for the
first time coming from you. It has to have that
spontaneity. That makes for great performances and the listener
feels that. He receives that spontaneity and that sense of it’s
being right. He feels that’s musical, that’s the way it should go.
BD: And it’s
the only way that should go?
Yes... well, no. There are many, many good interpreters of any
Beethoven Piano Sonata that
bring their own unique performance, but it has to have those
qualities. That’s what I mean. Even though, maybe as a very
strong listener or a very strong professional musician you may
disagree, but still its certain qualities and spontaneity and
truthfulness come from a performer. You must respect that.
BD: Is this
maybe what we’re missing now — we don’t have
enough performers performing the same new pieces to get these different
ideas and different spontaneities? Every singer sings Schubert
Lieder but not every singer is singing Milton Babbitt pieces or even
Well, that’s true. What I’m talking about is a universal thing
that I just feel applies to all music. My philosophy has always
been that it doesn’t matter from what period it comes as long as it’s a
good piece of music, and is a piece that you believe in. That’s
important. I’ve sung with the New York Pro Musica. I’ve done
Monteverdi and all the different styles of music. I’ve done
Schubert songs and I’ve done the Viennese School. I’ve done music
of today. I regard now Webern, Schoenberg and Stravinsky as
classics. They’re in the repertoire, so we can’t talk about them
as being contemporary anymore. As long as you are always doing a
good piece of music, you have so much going for you.
BD: What is
it that makes a piece of music good?
don’t know, but there are things that come through. It’s such a
hard question to answer why certain pieces come through, because there
are many composers who are forgotten. Bach was forgotten and
rediscovered by Mendelssohn, and I think that’s true of Nikos
Skalkottas, who was a Greek composer. He’s been forgotten and I
hope he’s going to come back. They’re beginning to play his music
more and more. He studied with Schoenberg, went back to Greece,
put his music in an drawer and wouldn’t talk about twelve-tone music
because no one understood that in the War years. He died when he
was about 45. I believe very strongly in developmental music,
whether it be twelve-tone or atonal or something else. Maybe
that’s what I’ve always felt — that whatever I
am singing is a piece in which you really have a theme or a motive that
has been worked and developed. Maybe that’s what I mean by a good
piece of music — a theme or a motive which has
been taken and used in variation form. Things like that.
The same concepts that really applied in much of Schoenberg have been
applied in tonality, even though they were working in a different
system. Those things are always there.
music or composers being forgotten... Are we throwing in a joker
today because in order to get a performance all we have to do is pull
a piece of plastic off the shelf and put it into a machine?
[Laughs] Hmmmmm... yes.
BD: Might that
change the dynamics since people can listen to these without having to
be part of a massed audience for a live, one-shot performance?
Yes. Of course a lot is preserved today, and a lot second-rate
music will be preserved, too. I don’t know. Still, though,
in the final analysis there is a good chance that the better composers
will be the ones who are ultimately being played the most. It
always has been that way. Of course now we have technology to
preserve things in a much better way.
should be the judge of what gets preserved — is
it the public, the composer, the performers, the critics, who?
music itself. Look at Bartók! He died without really
having been played that much, and then there was a big renaissance for
Bartók in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. There are different
types of composers, too. There are composers who really get out
there and hustle and get their music played, and then there are many
composers who won’t do that. It’s been that way ever since the
beginning of time in music. Some are better businessmen than
BD: But we
never seem to get the right balance of brilliant composers and
brilliant businessmen together in one person.
know. It’s a strange thing. I guess you could run that
parallel in painting as well. If van Gogh ever knew what his
paintings were being sold for today... [Both laugh]
BD: Would he
be appalled or would be pleased?
think he’d be pleased, and now he’s getting the recognition that he
wanted. It’s so sad though that in the creative process so many
people don’t get the recognition they want at the time while they’re
BD: I just
wonder if the recognition then goes too much toward the monetary
recognition, rather than the artistic recognition.
Right. I don’t think we’d get quite that parallel in music
compared to what’s happened in the world of painting. That’s
really a freakish thing that’s happened just in our century.
painting is something that unique and it’s there. Music is
something we can all have and take with us.
Exactly, exactly. So it’s different.
BD: Then let
me ask you, what is the purpose of music?
raise you to another level of humanity. A human being who has had
the experience of all the great composers gives himself a quality of
life that is on another level than just eating and sleeping. For
me it’s almost like a religion, and I think religion serves the same
purpose to a lot of people that music serves to musicians. A lot
of musicians have the feeling when they hear a great piece of music
that they’re on a spiritual level.
BD: Tell me
about working with conductors. You say mostly you like to sing
no, I work unaccompanied when I’m preparing a piece. I work
without always having a piano playing my part. I always worked
alone and learned my line. I would go to the rehearsal knowing my
line if it was, say, a piece for instruments.
about pieces with piano?
always worked with the same pianist for quite a few years. His
name was Bob Helps.
He was also a composer. We worked a lot on our programs, but I
would always have the music worked out.
other big accompanist was Earl Kim, another composer. You sought
out composers who were pianists.
worked with me very early on. I lived in Princeton and Earl was
teaching there at the University, and he loved the songs of
Schubert. We did do some performances of Die Schöne Müllerin
together. That was the only time he served as my
accompanist. He really was much more of a coach for me. I
would come with my music worked out, and he would then take me through
and show me things. He was invaluable in the ‘60s when he was
living there, then he left and went to Harvard. We’re still very,
very close friends.
BD: Tell me
the specific problems of working with voice and tape, because the tape
then becomes completely inflexible.
Right, that’s a good question. You feel rhythm differently.
For one thing, since there is no variation at all in the accompaniment
you feel rhythm in spaces of time. It’s hard to verbalize.
When you’re working with a tape, after you’ve done it many, many times
there’s this sense of the synchronization with the tape that takes
place inside you. It’s not something that you’d beat; it’s
something that you feel, these time-frames with that tape.
BD: So it
would be completely wrong to have a click track in your ear?
would put on the click track when I learned Vision and Prayer, which was the
first electronic piece I ever did, but then I threw it away. It
didn’t help. It was really much better to just work with the tape
itself, and to feel this sense of time, which is totally different than
when you’re working with humans and you’re actually aware of beats and
holding that rhythm together.
BD: Is there
a humanity to the electronics?
different. I don’t think you can say that; it’s just
different. It’s totally valid in its own way, and to compare it
to music that’s written for conventional instruments is like talking
about the harpsichord and the piano.
BD: Is there
a parallel with singers who should sing a recital with a harpsichord
and also with the piano, to singers should sing with an ensemble and
also with electronics?
To read my Interview with Charles Wuorinen, click HERE.
To read my Interview with Otto Luening, click HERE.
To read my Interview with Harvey Sollberger, click HERE.
BD: You did
quite a bit of work with Milton Babbitt. Tell me about him.
Milton was one of the first composers that I knew in New York when I
left Juilliard, and again working with Jacques Monod. Milton
wrote a song cycle for us, which is a classic now, called Du, and we performed it many, many
times. We were a voice-piano duo. We called ourselves a duo
because Jacques played completely from memory. Milton has been
almost like a surrogate father to me. I’ve known him for all my
singing career, and of course he’s written a lot of music for me as
BD: When you
asked him to write a piece for you, did you give him any advice, or did
you just say, “Write me a piece?”
it didn’t work out that way. I did commission Milton to write Philomel because I received a Ford
Foundation grant. Otherwise those pieces were written in
conjunction with where he was coming from at the moment. For
instance Vision and Prayer
was his first piece with voice and the RCA synthesizer, which was the
big thing he was involved in the ‘60s. Remember that piece goes
back to ’61. It’s almost one of the very first
historically. Then he got involved in working the use of
phonemes, so he wrote Phonemena.
Then he also wrote a piece for me called Songs and Words, which was based on
bits of speech but all worked into a very big virtuosic vocal
line. It’s as difficult to sing as any Rossini aria, such as Non più mesta.
[Nodding her head] Hmmm, hmmm! Yes, he understands the
soprano voice. It’s interesting. People asked how am I
learning those pieces, but Milton is very easy to sing because he uses
a preponderance of fifths, fourths, thirds, and sixths. He writes
a very tonal-orientated line. Now Webern, on the other hand, is
very difficult to learn because he has a preponderance of sevenths,
ninths, and augmented fourths, and it’s very hard to learn. You
really have to work a much longer time to get that vocal line into your
BD: Does it
do your heart good now to hear Milton’s music sung by others?
I think it’s wonderful. I hope the tradition goes on. Every
singer hopes that. I’m sure Peter Pears would be terribly upset
if the music of Britten stopped with his demise. I hope to hear a
lot of Babbitt sung before mine.
composer you worked with was Ralph Shapey.
and it was very interesting because at the time that Milton wrote Songs and Words, Ralph wrote a
piece called Incantations,
which used totally different phonemes and was working the voice in a
very melismatic way. One section was all pure humming, with just
soft, soft timpani accompaniment. Fabulous! It was just
mesmerizing to hear that. I often play Ralph’s piece when I do
workshops and give young singers examples of the new vocal techniques
that composers have used — such as Sprechstimme, the use of phoneme
syllables, taking texts totally out of a piece like a vocalise, only a
very highly sophisticated vocalise in which all of the phonemes of
vowels and the consonants are put into a very sophisticated vocal
line. Also another vocal technique is singing with tape, because
some wonderful things have been done in that field. You can talk
about some of the vocal effects that singers have used, like in some of
the music of Berio
such as Circles. Those
vocal texts have always been around. We hear it in ethnic music,
cantorial music, but when I say a valid vocal technique, I mean
something that could be used for a whole body of music. You could
really write a lot of pieces like Pierrot
Lunaire, or you could write a lot of pieces like Phonemena. Part of Babbitt’s
identification with Phonemena is that he loves jazz and he loved
Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing. He wanted to sort of write a scat
BD: Did you
sing some of the works of Earl Kim?
when Earl was teaching at Princeton I did several of his pieces.
Then when he left and went to Harvard, and we lost contact for a
while. But one beautiful singer, Benita Valente, has done a great
deal of Earl’s music.
BD: And now
the torch is also being passed to Dawn Upshaw.
BD: Are you
pleased with her and what’s she doing?
yes. Dawn’s a beautiful singer, a wonderful musician. She
also is getting stretched, though. Do you know what I mean?
They get so busy that sometimes they need to just take a year off and
retool, rest the voice, rethink things. It’s very hard because
they’re in big demand when they are hot issues, so to speak, in the
music market, and believe it or not, music is an economical show-biz
market. It’s just I hate to say it.
your career did you try to keep the business separate from the art?
Bethany: Yes, I was
very fortunate. My husband was well-to-do, and so I thought of
myself as a subsidized singer. [Laughs]
BD: You were
your own foundation!
Bethany: In a
way, yes, in the sense that I could be selective. He also was a
BD: Did you
sing some of his music?
did. His name was Godfrey Winham, and unfortunately he died at
the age of 39. He was doing a lot of major pioneering work in
computer music. He wrote some of the first music programs that
were used by the universities way back in the ‘60s. He died in
’75. He worked with Jim Morando, and people at Bell Labs.
He was working on voice synthesis when he died. He was actually
taking my voice and making samples of it when he died, hoping to write
computer music that would have the voice in it synthesized. He
was way ahead of his time. So I’ve known some interesting
BD: Are there
any female composers that you’ve worked with?
Arlene Zallman is one. I know a lot of female composers, but the
one person I’ve sung the most is Arlene Zallman. [Arlene Zallman (September 9, 1934 – November
25, 2006) was born
in Philadelphia and graduated from the Juilliard School of Music. She
received a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where
she studied composition with Vincent Persichetti
and George Crumb.
In 1959 she received a two-year Fulbright Scholarship to Florence,
Italy, to study with Luigi Dallapiccola. She held positions on the
faculty of the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and Yale
University and then became a professor of composition at Wellesley,
Massachusetts in in 1976. She received the Marion S. Freschl Award for
Vocal Composition, and awards from Meet the Composer, the Mellon
Foundation, the Massachusetts Council for the Arts and Humanities, and
the Guggenheim Foundation. Her Three Songs from Quasimodo won awards
from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the International
Society for Contemporary Music.] I like the
music very much of Shulamit Ran, who I believe is here at the
University of Chicago.
Yes. She was composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony, and
now she’s becoming composer-in-residence at Lyric Opera.
know her music. I also like very much Ellen Zwilich and Joan Tower.
There aren’t that many, though it seems, but there’s quite a few.
Of course I’ve sung Ruth Crawford Seeger, but she is one of the
composers who are not living. Even Nadia Boulanger I’ve looked
at. I’ve never sung her, though, I must say.
you mentioned Skalkottas...
Bethany: I’m very
much interested in music of Skalkottas, not just his vocal music, but I
would very much like to see a whole round of the music of Skalkottas in
this country. I don’t know if that will every come about. Gunther Schuller
has finally gotten all of the Skalkottas’ manuscripts, and I believe
his Morgan Publications is coming out with them. They just
finished the complete piano works, and now they’re doing the big song
cycles — sixteen songs which I’ve sung
— and that will be issued soon. But he’s written some
wonderful things. There’s a marvelous octet and there’s a whole
set of string quartets. He was very prolific with big orchestral
pieces, ballet music, music dramas and a wonderful trio set of
variations on a Greek folksong. He’s done a lot of arrangements
of folksongs for orchestra, which are played quite often in
Athens. In London he had a big following there when Hans Keller
was running the BBC. Hans promoted a lot of his music.
BD: One last
question. Is singing fun?
Yes. It’s joyful. It’s a lot of fun. If the whole
human race were allowed to sing from the time
they were children straight through to their senior years in college,
and if they had lots of music, I don’t think we would have any more war
because singing is such a joyful act. It gives the spirit such a
release. When you see these big amateur choruses, speak to any of
those members, and they will say they love it. There’s something
about it. It’s a very human act and if you’re singing the great
works such as the oratorios, it’s a tremendous experience for an
amateur musician. And if everybody knew how to sight-read and
could sing all those years in school, we would have a world full of
singing instead of guns. We’re being very romantic, I guess, and
BD: Thank you
for all of the music that you’ve given us for these many years.
Maybe I’ll come back again as a wood thrush — my
favorite bird. Listen to one someday. It’s great.
It’s never quite the same. He has many, many variations, and he
does some incredible singing. It is the most interesting bird
singing I’ve ever heard.
BD: I wonder
if you have it backwards — maybe
you were a wood thrush, and have come back as Bethany!
knows. Do you believe in Karma?
BD: I haven’t
really thought about it. I’ve been too busy doing what I’m doing
for the musicians and the public.
You’re doing a wonderful thing.
To read my Interview with Ernst Krenek, click HERE.
To read my Interview with Paul Fromm, click HERE.
To read my Interview with Michael Tilson Thomas, click HERE.
© 1995 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in the studios of WNIB,
Classical 97 in Chicago on June 18, 1995. Portions (along with
recordings) were broadcast on WNIB in 1997.
This transcription was made in 2014, and posted on this
at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una
Barry for her help in preparing this website
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.