The first woman to record Frederic Rzewski's setting of Oscar Wilde's "De Profundis," Bang on a Can/Steve Reich pianist Lisa Moore sheds powerful new light on Wilde's jailhouse meditation on imprisonment, debasement, and the barriers that he faced as a homosexual.
Rzewski, a revolutionary American composer with associations in both the modern classical and avant-jazz worlds, has created an aggressively emotional soundtrack to Wilde's moving prose. "De Profundis" breaks down the boundaries between a piano recital and a theatrical experience. Written for a virtuosic pianist who also sings, shouts, and declaims, Rzewski's masterpiece is given a gripping re-interpretation by Moore, who brings a new character to the work through her passionate piano performance and compelling voice. Using her expertise beyond the field of classical music, Moore is one of the few pianists besides Rzewski himself to dig into the improvisations of North American Ballads, giving beautifully simple performances of Rzewski's arrangements of American spirituals.
"Lisa Moore gave a startlingly good performance: she was lustrous at the keyboard, and at once engaging and challenging."
-Paul Griffiths, The New York Times, on hearing Moore perform "De Profundis"
About "De Profundis"
"Rzewski's 'De Profundis' (1992) for speaking pianist could be described as a melodramatic oratorio in which eight sections are preceded by eight instrumental preludes. It is a 30-minute composition for piano solo in which the pianist recites text excerpted from Oscar Wilde's letter ('De Profundis') to Lord Alfred Douglas ('Bosie'), written during the author's imprisonment in Reading Gaol. The original text is an 80-page 'love letter.' It was never sent to Bosie for fear that he would destroy it, but was eventually read out in court to him in a later trial.
On November 13th 1895, Wilde was taken to prison under charges relating to his homosexual conduct. He was called a sodomist by Bosie's father, and in retaliation Wilde attempted to sue for defamation. This attempt 'backfired' on Wilde and he was sentenced to hard labour for two years. Even though Wilde ultimately blamed his lover Bosie for his downfall, 'De Profundis' was in some aspects a therapeutic attempt to forgive Bosie and end the bitterness in Wilde's heart. The letter was written with no corrections (having apparently been allowed only one piece of paper in his cell at any time) and is Wilde's last work of prose. The climax of 'De Profundis' comes as Wilde discovers God, not a morally judgmental figure but an accepting, loving spirit, independant of any religious affiliation. This revelation begins to heal Wilde's misery. In 1897, Wilde left prison a changed man. He was ecstatic and determined to resume his once great artistic career. However, banished to Europe (where he reunited for a short while with Bosie in Italy), he became increasingly ostracised and was unable to complete any works other than the large poem 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol,' and an article on child imprisonment."
- Lisa Moore
For more information about the composer and performer, please visit the artist pages for Frederic Rzewski, and Lisa Moore.