Meeting for Equal Rights 1866 (Fine, Vivian)
Mary Lee Farris, mezzo-soprano; Richard Frisch, baritone; Patricia Robbins, narrator; David Ralph, organ, The Chorus and Orchestra of the Oratorio Society of New York, Lyndon Woodside, conductor, Roberta Kosse and Joseph Rescigno, assisting conductors. Recorded live at Alice Tully Hall, New York City, May 20, 1976
Vivian Fine Estate
Meeting for Equal Rights 1866 was originally scored for full orchestra. For this performance the composer rescored the work for organ, percussion, and winds. There is no recording available of the work in its original form with full orchestra.
|Work Title||Meeting for Equal Rights 1866|
|Alternative Title||A Cantata for Chorus, Orchestra, Mezzo-soprano, Baritone, and Narrator|
|Year/Date of Composition||1975|
|First Performance||1976-04-23 in New York City, Grand Hall, Cooper Union
|Librettist||Catherine Beecher, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the National Women’s Rights Central Committee, Robert Purvis, Horace Greeley, Sojourner Truth, Laura Curtis Bullard, Angelina Grimke Weld, Frederick Douglas, Senator Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, Senator Williams of Oregon, and the Old Testament. Compiled by the composer with research assistance from Gail Parker.|
|Average Duration||30 minutes|
|Instrumentation||Mixed chorus, orchestra, soprano and bass-baritone soloists, and narrator. Percussion includes xylophone, cymbals, sus. cymbal, snare drum, ratchet, flexatone, triangle, tambourine, and glockenspiel.|
After the Civil War there was a split among the Abolitionists. The men wanted to give the freed black man the vote, but they refused to give it to the women. The women abolitionists, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, all of them were outraged, that [after] their work to free the black man, they were to be denied the vote, both black and white women. This was an intensely passionate struggle, a really great moment and heroic period of the suffrage movement.
- —Vivian Fine in an interview with Frances Harmeyer, Oral History of American Music series, Yale University.
Fine decided that she wanted to do the project because she had an idea—she would compile writings and speeches from the period of the original meeting for equal rights and set these to music in the form of a cantata with soloists and a narrator. She wanted her music to portray the masses that gathered for the meeting, so she…divided the orchestra into three sections, and assigned each its own conductor.“After the introduction, the chorus is segregated,with the men first singing in chorale stye and at times becoming a speaking chorus accompanied by strings….The women have more active and varied textures accompanied by the brass and winds….The soloists and narrator form a third group, which is often punctuated by percussion.
- —Heidi Von Gunden, The Music of Vivian Fine, Scarecrow Press, 1999
The music recreates the charged atmosphere at these meetings--the intense emotions and convictions of the speakers, the violent clash of opinions. Fine would often both lighten the mood and underscore the argument of serious works by injecting playful or ironic humor, and although the overall mood of this work is intense and passionate, Fine uses humor in the second section, with the men intoning “Obedient, meek, patient, forgiving, gentle and loving,” to the strains of Brahms Lullaby, and again in the fourth section, “Our heart warms with pity towards these unfortunate creatures.”
Did you know that Frederick Douglass, the ex-slave and militant abolitionist, was something of a male chauvinist at heart, or that Horace Greeley, who counseled young men to go West, thought that young women belonged in the home? These double standards are among the revelations in Meeting for Equal Rights 1866 ….To dramatize her point she assigns the pro and con sides of the suffrage question to respective soloists and sections of the chorus and orchestra. [In the second section] the men’s chorus extols male domination in soothing tones to a string-chorale accompaniment, the women voice harsh objections over jabbing discords in the brass, and the winds, seated between the two groups, remain neutral. The results are often quite vivid, especially the Ivesian clashes and the blunt peroration. There is also an ominous and impassioned setting for mezzo-soprano…of a speech [by Sojourner Truth] about the oppression of black women.
- —A. Der, Musical America, August 1976
Vivian Fine’s Meeting for Equal Rights 1866 proved a stirring and timely piece devoted to the unhappily still struggling cause of equal rights. Taking a feminist viewpoint that is full of righteous rage—which is understandable—and composition—which is more important—Meeting for Equal Rights 1866 provides the first current artistic statement for women’s rights other than literature.
While various painters, choreographers and others in the performing arts have made spasmodic treatment of women, Vivian Fine has selected the writings and spoken works of both men and women and set them to music that augments and dramatizes the conflicts and hopes of countless generations.
Lyndon Woodside and the Oratorio Society had given an April world premiere of Meetinig for Equal Rights 1866 in the historic setting of the Cooper Union Great Hall. On that occasion the scoring was for full orchestra. The conductor wished to repeat Fine’s important work, and asked the composer to rescore it for organ, percussion and winds, which she did—with tremendous success
Vivian Fine’s cantata is an eclectic score that manages to be obviously descriptive of textual matters…The chaos of discordant words is captured by multiple text being shouted, recited and sung, with instrumental shrieks from the organ and winds adding vivid color.
- —Byron Belt, Long Island Press, May 21, 1976