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This article is taken from PN Review 154, Volume 30 Number 2, November - December 2003.

Ezra Pound's Operas Charles Mundye


On the evenings of 26 and 27 October 1931, in an electrician's kitchen in Rapallo, Ezra Pound was listening to a BBC radio broadcast emanating from the long-wave transmitter in Daventry. That the great modernist poet could listen to a 'live' performance from London in his Italian home town was remarkable; his wife Dorothy joined separately in the experience, hearing the same broadcast while staying in London, and later discussing the quality and balance of the sound with her friend Edith Madge (listening in Winchester). They were all hearing a version of Pound's first opera Le Testament de Villon, composed by him in the early 1920s. There had been early and partial performances of the work, most notably at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, where it attracted an exclusive audience that now reads as a kind of 'Who was Who' of Parisian and cosmopolitan Modernism: Djuna Barnes, Mina Loy, Virgil Thomson, Jean Cocteau, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce are all supposed to have attended. But in October 1931 technological modernity was intersecting and interacting with a Modernist aesthetic, and the medium of radio drama introduced the opera to a new and relatively wide audience. Margaret Fisher's excellent book Ezra Pound's Radio Operas: The BBC Experiments, 1931-1933 has exactly this intersection as its subject.

That Pound was deeply interested in music is evinced by his extensive body of writing on the subject - as reviewer of the early-century London music scene, often under the pseudonym ...


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