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TWO AMERICAN cultural heroes, author James Agee and composer Samuel Barber, and their Knoxville: Summer of 1915 were celebrated yesterday in Part 1. Today, we continue with Chris Myers’ notes from Redlands Symphony Season 2018–2019. And I share my favorite bits and performer of the work.

“The piece begins,” Myers says, “with a theme that we will come to associate with the comfort of home. A gentle triplet figure in the orchestra brings to mind the image of rocking chairs on the porch, mirroring the text’s description of people ‘rocking gently and talking gently.’ ”

James Agee’s childhood home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Image from Elaine Fine’s Musical Assumptions.

At two points in the piece, gentleness is disrupted. First, by “a streetcar raising its iron moan, stopping, belling and starting, stertorous.” Later, as Myers notes, “the comfort of the ‘home’ theme is interrupted again—this time by a slow recognition [and the child narrator’s precognition] of mortality.”

“The gentle rocking theme returns,” Myers says, “and attempts to regain the innocent happiness with which it began, but it never quite manages. It does, however, achieve a calm acceptance which seems both more profound and more fulfilling.”

Knoxville: Summer of 1915 on CD. My favorite Knoxville is sung by Leontyne Price. There’s a posting of it at YouTube.

Leontyne Price Sings Barber, Leontyne Price, Thomas Schippers conducting the New Philharmonic Orchestra, 1994.

This CD also includes Price singing Barber’s Hermit Songs, Op. 29, two arias from Antony and Cleopatra, and several others of his works.

Price and Barber have appeared previously here at SimanaitisSays: She sang Cleopatra in the world premiere of Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, this opera opening the Metropolitan Opera’s Lincoln Center home in 1966.

Prose Poetry. On a summer night, Agee family members lie on quilts in the yard and gaze upward: “The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near.”

The Agee Knoxville is a place of change: “A horse and buggy go by, a loud auto, a quiet auto, a noisy streetcar.”

James Agee Park in Knoxville. Photo by Brian Stansberry.

“May God bless my people,” the Knoxville child says, “my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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