Knoxville: Summer of 1915
This might be the most boring post ever on this blog. I say that just because I’m not into opera, high-pitched singing.
Just the thought of this post almost puts me to sleep, yet it’s relevant.
So I forge ahead. The things I do for 101 Books.
Despite my negativity, I must admit this:
One way you know a novel has made an impact is to see all the different ways it’s been translated into different art forms. Remember all the books-turned-musicals I posted about?
This is relevant to A Death In The Family because the book’s opening inspired the “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” orchestral piece, written in 1947 by Samuel Barber for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
If you’ve read the opening to A Death In The Family, you understand the connection to Knoxville and the summer of 1915. Barber only uses portions of Agee’s text for the lyrics in his piece. It’s been performed thousands of times across the world.
According to Wikipedia:
While Knoxville is described as a rhapsody, it can also be seen as almost rondo-like in form (Kreiling). After a brief orchestral prelude, the beginning paints a picture of gentle rocking on chairs, supported by the narrative as the soprano enters: “It has become that time of the evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently.” Theharp and flute play a steadily rocking line while the soprano introduces the first melody. Interestingly, Barber does not ever repeat this melody exactly; instead, he characteristically alters it subtly in its next few appearances.
I will admit that I enjoy a good symphony, but I enjoy them without the high-pitched operatic singing. Sounds like I probably wouldn’t be a fan of this piece.
That said, it’s still an interesting tidbit and a testament to the relevance of James Agee’s story.
Here’s a clip from the piece for your enjoyment.