This performance by Phantasm is one among many that I have on my iTunes' frequently played list. At last count, I've listened to this fantasy eighty-seven times.
There are a few reasons why I am moved by this music.
I consider this work one of the masterpieces of the latter part of the 20th-Century. As John Rockwell, formerly the new music partisan and advocate at the New York Times, Johnston is "one of the best non-famous composers this country has to offer..." Repeated listening has only underscored how magnificent this work is (to me). Love love love this performance by the Denali Quartet. Music for the Ages as far as I'm concerned. Dr. Johnston taught at the University of Illinois in Champ-bana from the early 50s to the mid-80s. He lives to this day in North Carolina. More information about Mr. Johnston is here.
Rodgers & Hammerstein worked in post-war American, back in that time when many Americans of a certain age remember that the USA was Great. This musical looked at sexual predators and spousal abuse square in the face and some would say it flinched. This final footage of the film chokes me up every time, even to this day, because it flinches and tries to wriggle out of the grip of terror and violence and manipulation. In fact, I think some could see this scene as a grand manipulation, as well.
I would disagree based on what we know (through factual reporting) that abused women often rationalize their love for their abuser. This musical's undertow is that the only escape from Billy Bigelow (the abuser) was for him to die in an accident. The abuse is not resolved. The abuser avoids punishment. The abused gives her unqualified forgiveness and love. And we do not have any "justice" in the story...and the music romanticizes and puts a gloss on what has happened. We still use music this way.
Except, we might want to listen again to the opening measures of the musical, "Carousel."
The happy theme of the eponymous carousel is put into a darker, more foreboding context which I think is absolutely intentional on the part of Richard Rodgers. R&H wrote other musicals that addressed social injustices of their day: "South Pacific," "The King & I," "The Sound of Music," and "Flower Drum Song." As they worked together, each new musical they premiered seemed to carry deeper and deeper social (in)justice messages. Their work becomes more important with each passing year, as well.
I'm working with my band, Paris1919 on a show in February 2019 that is tentatively titled "Dark..." The dark is something we all fear, and rightfully so and it is in part due to Trump, who is never far from our thoughts these days because he never wants to be out of our thoughts and often those thoughts are horrifying and threatening. As we create the music for our February show I will be thinking of "You Never Walk Alone." It gives me creepy, dark and hair-raising chills every time I hear it.
Composer Randall Davidson creates music, and performs, produces, and promotes music of others. This blog is an annotated, virtual playlist of the music that he loves and that he calls "sticky" (aka memorable).