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Dodecaphonia (1997)
For voice and piano


First performed May 22, 1997, by Joan Morris, mezzo-soprano and William Bolcom, piano; Symphony Space, New York, NY


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And If The Song Be Worth A Smile - Songs by American Composers Pentatone B001LKLKWK (2009)


7 minutes


Program note

I had always wanted to write a cabaret song entitled “They Call Me Twelve-Tone Rose,” only because the delicious absurdity of the title appealed to me. I made the mistake of mentioning this to Mark Adamo as he was writing the libretto for his opera Little Women, and before long the lyric appeared on my desk. (Full disclosure demands that I admit to contributing the word “ha!” to the last stanza.) I procrastinated, in my usual way, but then blundered again, this time mentioning to Joan Morris over dinner that the lyric existed. Joan, of course, is not only a bewitching cabaret singer in her own right, but she performs evenings of theatre and cabaret song all over the world with her husband, the internationally recognized composer William Bolcom, at the piano. Finally, after Joan’s postcard reading, “Are you going to make a diva beg?” I composed (in strict dodecaphonic manner) the brief film-noir aria before you. The text reads as follows:

I was a cop on the (off-) beat,
Assigned the strangest case:
Some morbid seductress, some sinister vamp
Was stalking composers of every camp.
I’d very few clues for the chase:

(The PIANIST plays six seemingly unrelated pitches. The SINGER mulls...)

Her coat: a battered ermine,
One victim recollected:
Her accent, faintly German,
Another one suspected:
She’d left no other trace.

(The PIANIST plays another six pitches, unrelated to the first set. The SINGER mulls...)

I needed to determine
How all this was connected.
I started to pace.

(The SINGER paces, as the PIANIST replays all twelve pitches...)

Ermine coat . . .
German throat . . .
O, mein Gott!

It hit me so subtly
It was almost subliminal —
That I was pursuing no less than the town’s most
Criminal . . .

They call her Twelve-Tone Rose,
And oh! She’s cold.
She sounds completely schizoid, but she’s so controlled.
She never quite repeats herself, yet always sounds the same,
That too-too-Teutonic, that anti-mnemonic, that dodecaphonic dame,

Whose name is Twelve-Tone Rose —
Don’t buy her line!
Her ev’ry fey non sequitur is by design,
She lured the likes of Lenny, even Copland to her camp —
That vaguely ethereal, always funereal, post-Wagnerial vamp —

Sure, she’s exotic as a Persian,
Beguiling as a witch,
And all your smartest friends take her advice.
But she’ll lead you to inversion
And you’ll fall for ev’ry pitch,
‘Cause she’ll never use the same pitch twice —

No, no, beware of Twelve-Tone Rose — ha!
She’s no good for laughs,
And she’ll take your ev’ry melody and leave you with graphs!
She’ll take your pride, your heart, your wit, and when she’d done,
You, too, will be vaguely bathetic, completely synthetic, and just no fu —

(Suddenly the PIANIST grabs the singer and whispers urgently in her ear.)

What? Another one?
Young . . . American . . . stutters?

They call her

(The PIANIST lets loose a barrage of minimalist vamping.)

Millie Millie Millie Millie
Millie Millie Millie Millie
Millie Millie Millie Millie
Millie Millie Millie Millie
Millie Millie Millie Millie
Millie Millie Millie Millie —

Gotta run!

                     — John Corigliano

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