If the late 18th century is the "Classical Age," and the 19th "The Romantic," then perhaps we should dub our time "The Eclectic Age" of music. These days, composers can—and do—pick and choose from a wide variety of styles.
The American composer William Bolcom was loath to rule anything out when he approached the task of setting William Blake's "Songs of Innocence and of Experience" to music. Bolcom calls for a large orchestra, multiple choruses, and more than a dozen vocal soloists versed in classical, pop, folk, country, and operatic styles.
There are echoes of jazz, reggae, gospel, ragtime, country and rock idioms as well. As Bolcom put it: "At every point Blake used his whole culture, past and present, high-flown and vernacular, as sources for his many poetic styles. All I did was use the same stylistic point of departure Blake did in my musical settings." The massive work received its premiere performance in Stuttgart, Germany, on today's date in 1984.
At the age of 17, Bolcom decided he wanted to set Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience" to music, but put the project on hold to develop the compositional vocabulary he felt he needed to do the project justice.
Most of the work was completed between 1973 and 1982, after Bolcom joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and it was there that the work received its American premiere a few months following its world premiere in Germany.
Music Played in Today's Program
William Bolcom (b. 1938)Songs of Innocence and of ExperienceSoloists; Choirs; University of Michigan School of Music Symphony; Leonard Slatkin, cond.Naxos 8.559216/18