Category: Isham Memorial Library (page 1 of 14)

Two Works by Joyce Mekeel

Headshot of Mekeel

Mekeel, Harvard University, Radcliffe Archives, W367379.1

The Joyce Mekeel Collection of Musical Scores and Recordings, 1961-1996, which came to the Library by the composer in 1997, contains manuscript scores, compositional materials and incomplete works, correspondence, reviews, theory notebooks, biographical ephemera, and audio materials. From this collection we’ve chosen two pieces to highlight: one for its interesting instructional layout, another for its glowing reviews.

Mekeel’s 1973-74 site-specific work Moveable Feast describes how the three groups in the piece, Jazz Group, Old C, and Feast, are to play music and move their bodies. The collection contains a 1992 letter to an editor at Oxford University Press as a response to numerous questions, a cue sheet from a November 1973 performance at “Mass College” and a March 7, 1974 performance at New England Conservatory, of which NEC holds a recording.

Moveable Feast stage work instructions

Merritt Room, Ms. Coll. 104, Box 18

The following year Mekeel completed a commission by Harvard’s Fromm Music Foundation of Serena, a piece for mezzo-soprano, speaker, and chamber ensemble. It premiered at Tanglewood during the annual Festival of Contemporary Music, which still continues to this day.

Serena speaker and singer instructions

Merritt Room, Ms. Coll. 104, Box 2

The work was positively reviewed by Donal Henahan, a candid opinion writer for the New York Times. He snarkily writes, “It doesn’t often happen that the newest piece on a concert program is also the best, but that is how it was last night at Tanglewood…”

Newspaper clipping with quote.He must have been truly impressed given he also states, “Otherwise, the concert offered the usual assortment of contemporary commonplaces and experimental failures, with an elderly additive to leaven the lump.” Extra kudos to Mekeel, given that Henahan also wrote a provocative piece for the New York Times titled “Let’s Hear It For Composer Persons,” where the first sentence reads, “Everyone knows women can’t compose.”

Newspaper clipping stating women can't compose.

In the same article he writes of Serena, “…Mekeel was powerful and simple in effect though intricately designed.”

newspaper clipping with praise quote

A later review of a 1977 performance held at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City was just as positive, stating “the most arresting item of the evening was Joyce Mekeel’s “Serena,” the sung and spoken duo.” The concert was titled “Hear America First,” and was a premiere for several new works by several composers.

Newspaper clipping withe previous quote

In the spring of 2019, the Loeb Music Library held an exhibit, Toward the Source: Joyce Mekeel, curated by the Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library, Christina Linklater. We also have another Mekeel collection, The Joyce Mekeel Collection of Musical Scores in Graphic Notation, 1952-1969. The Mekeel Collections will be available for research by request in the Isham Memorial Library, which is located on the second floor of the Loeb Music Library, when the Library opens again post-pandemic.

Two exhibit cases containing Mekeel materials.

Exhibit cases from the 2019 exhibition from the Joyce Mekeel collection.

Sources:

Henahan, Donal. “Music: ‘Serena’ Catches the Imagination.” New York Times, Aug. 13, 1975.
Henahan, Donal. “Let’s Hear It For Composer Persons.” New York Times, Aug. 31, 1975.
Hughes, Allen. “Hear America.” New York Times, Apr. 14, 1977.

Uqbāl mīt Sanah, Aziz El-Shawan

Aziz El-Shawan (1916-1993) was twentieth-century Egypt’s most prominent composer. His collection of manuscript scores, including finished works, sketches and miscellaneous other materials — is held here at Harvard’s Loeb Music Library, and we are excited to announce that the Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores is now fully processed, with nearly all of its contents digitized and freely available online.

In this half-body photographic portrait, the composer Aziz El-Shawan is depicted wearing a three-piece dark suit and looking into the distance.

Portrait of Aziz El-Shawan. From the private collection of Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco.

After Egypt’s Soviet Cultural Center was founded in 1952, El-Shawan served as its director for fifteen years, which afforded him opportunities to travel to Moscow, where he befriended and eventually studied with renowned Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian, whose influence on the development of El-Shawan’s composition style was profound.

El-Shawan was a prolific composer of songs, symphonies, symphonic poems, ballets, choral works, cantatas, operas, concertos, suites, and chamber music. He considered Western tonal music to be an “international musical language” and created a new musical idiom in which he wrote for both Western and Egyptian instruments.

His best-known work, Anās El-Wugūd, was the first Egyptian opera with Arabic language and content to reach the stage. It was first performed in Cairo in 1996.

Several people in colorful traditional Egyptian costumes stand on a short flight of steps.

A scene from the 1996 premiere of Anās El-Wugūd at the Cairo Opera House. From the private collection of Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco.

From our collection, here are select pages of his manuscripts of the opera’s full score and vocal score.

Pages 18-19 of the orchestral score of Aziz El-Shawan's opera Anās El-Wugūd, written by the composer himself. Several lines of music spread across a tall sheets of ruled staff paper, with orchestral number 7 at the top of page 19 in red ink.

Anās El-Wugūd (full score). Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores. Ms. Coll. 155, Box 5.

 

Pages 205-206 of the vocal score of Aziz El-Shawan's opera Anās El-Wugūd, copied by the composer himself. Several systems of music spread across a tall sheets of ruled staff paper, with Arabic text underlay and annotations.

Anās El-Wugūd (vocal score). Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores. Ms. Coll. 155, Box 7.

Our finding aid for the Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores contains information about each piece, along with links to electronic copies of all the pieces we have digitized.

And in honor of May 6th being the 104th anniversary of El-Shawan’s birth date, here from our collection is a birthday song that he composed (with lyrics by Nabilah Qandil), titled Uqbāl mīt Sanah.

The three-page autograph manuscript score of Aziz El-Shawan’s song Uqbāl mīt Sanah (Happy Birthday to You). Apart from the English translation on the title page, the score text is in Arabic.

Uqbāl mīt Sanah (Happy Birthday to You). Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores. Ms. Coll. 155, Box 6.

This post was written by Josh Kantor, Assistant Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library. The Aziz El-Shawan Collection is available to view online. Interested researchers may view the rest of the collection by appointment. When the Harvard library buildings re-open, click View in Library in the HOLLIS record for the Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores and tell us when you would like to visit.

Older posts

© 2020 Loeb Music Library

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑