The Great Wall of China (Fine, Vivian)




MP3 file (audio)
rhymesandchymes (2012/9/28)

MP3 file (audio)
rhymesandchymes (2012/3/15)

Performers Luann Lee, soprano; with The Walden Trio
Gwendolyn Mansfield, flute; Maxine Neuman, cello; Joan Stein, piano
Publisher Info. Vivian Fine estate
Misc. Notes Recorded live at WQXR, New York City, 1975
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Sheet Music


PDF typeset by Paul Hawkins
rhymes&chymes (2012/3/15)

Publisher. Info. Vivian Fine Estate
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General Information

Work Title The Great Wall of China
Alternative. Title
Composer Fine, Vivian
I-Catalogue NumberI-Cat. No. IVF 29
Movements/SectionsMov'ts/Sec's 4 movements
  1. Lento
  2. Moderato
  3. Adagio, with massive power
  4. Quasi recitativo, semplice
First Performance. 1948-05 at the Macmillan Theater, New York City, Alice Ditson Fund Concert
Shirlee Emmons, soprano, Ralph Freundlich, flute, Claus Adams, cello, and Alvin Bauman, piano
Librettist Franz Kafka (1883–1924)
Language English
Average DurationAvg. Duration 14 minutes
Composer Time PeriodComp. Period Modern
Piece Style Modern
Instrumentation Soprano, flute, violin, cello, and piano

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The Great Wall of China…is an impressive composition in which Fine shed any attempt to write tonally. This is Vivian Fine at her best, free to write what she hears. The inspiration for the song came while reading Franz Kafka’s The Great Wall of China. Fine selected passages that attracted her interest and divided the song into four untitled movements….The Great Wall of China is experimental and forward looking in the way she involved the ensemble in portraying the text. Only the third movement uses the full ensemble; Fine never feels compelled to have everyone playing all of the time. The soprano’s text is syllabic and declamatory but set in the twisting modernistic line of her earlier music. At times she narrates with a spoken line but never is the text distorted….Fine does not use sprechstimme or any extended vocal techniques. Rather it is the total texture that conveys meaning.

—Heidi Von Gunden, The Music of Vivian Fine, Scarecrow Press, 1999


“…Moments of high drama…coexist alongside subtle poetic development.”

—Marion Jacobson, The Washington Post

“One listens, one laughs at this singular alliance of voice and instruments. But one listens, intrigued. The music becomes more violent. There are bangings on the piano like a gong, sounds like the orchestra of a Chinese theatre and all sorts of queer figurations, as the voice continues….We think that [Satre]…would have enjoyed these existential strains.”

—Olin Downs, The New York Times