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Revealing MasksExotic Influences and Ritualized Performance in Modernist Music Theater$
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W. Anthony Sheppard

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780520223028

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520223028.001.0001

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Bitter Rituals for a Lost Nation: Partch and Bernstein

Bitter Rituals for a Lost Nation: Partch and Bernstein

(p.204) 13 Bitter Rituals for a Lost Nation: Partch and Bernstein
Revealing Masks

W. Anthony Sheppard

University of California Press

Harry Partch and Leonard Bernstein are divergent in several dimensions, including their marketability. Yet through a juxtaposition of works by these apparent musical antipodes, it is possible to illumine the pervasiveness of certain basic issues in American music theater and to suggest how both Partch's Revelation in the Courthouse Park and Bernstein's Mass reflect several developments in the social history of the 1960s. This chapter considers three primary topics raised by these two works and concentrates on cultural contextualization rather than on detailed comparison. First, they are concerned with ritual and religious expression—with a critique of established American social and religious rituals and with the creation of a new work of ritualistic or didactic status. Second, this critique and transformation is achieved musically through the use, or perhaps abuse, of American popular music and through radical musical juxtaposition. Finally, Partch and Bernstein employ ritual expression and popular music references for the purposes of parody and social criticism, focusing on the relationship of the individual to society. Created at opposite ends of a turbulent decade, but yoked together by violence, Revelation and Mass arrive at somewhat different conclusions.

Keywords:   music theater, Harry Partch, Leonard Bernstein, ritual, religious expression, musical juxtaposition, social history

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