Chapter

Bitter Rituals for a Lost Nation: Partch and Bernstein

W. Anthony Sheppard

in Revealing Masks

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2001 | ISBN: 9780520223028
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520924741 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520223028.003.0013
Bitter Rituals for a Lost Nation: Partch and Bernstein

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Harry Partch and Leonard Bernstein are divergent in several dimensions, including their marketability. Yet through a juxtaposition of works by these apparent musical antipodes, it is possible to illumine the pervasiveness of certain basic issues in American music theater and to suggest how both Partch's Revelation in the Courthouse Park and Bernstein's Mass reflect several developments in the social history of the 1960s. This chapter considers three primary topics raised by these two works and concentrates on cultural contextualization rather than on detailed comparison. First, they are concerned with ritual and religious expression—with a critique of established American social and religious rituals and with the creation of a new work of ritualistic or didactic status. Second, this critique and transformation is achieved musically through the use, or perhaps abuse, of American popular music and through radical musical juxtaposition. Finally, Partch and Bernstein employ ritual expression and popular music references for the purposes of parody and social criticism, focusing on the relationship of the individual to society. Created at opposite ends of a turbulent decade, but yoked together by violence, Revelation and Mass arrive at somewhat different conclusions.

Keywords: music theater; Harry Partch; Leonard Bernstein; ritual; religious expression; musical juxtaposition; social history

Chapter.  10955 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Applied Music

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