A Song for Turbulent Times: Melissa Dunphy’s “Farewell, Angelina”

A Song for Turbulent Times: Melissa Dunphy’s “Farewell, Angelina”

Reflections on Melissa Dunphy’s Farewell Angelina (2019)

Farewell, Angelina was included on the recital-film project, I take the long way there. For more information about this program, check out my projects.

Bob Dylan (b.1941) & Joan Baez (b.1941)

“Farewell, Angelina” was first recorded by poet, musician, and composer Bob Dylan (b. 1941) as an outtake from the recording session for his 1965 fifth studio album, Bringin’ It All Back Home. Originally recorded under the working title of “Alcatraz to the 5th Power,” Dylan rejected it from the album’s final song list, giving “Farewell, Angelina” to musician, singer, and performer Joan Baez (b. 1941), who was also Dylan’s partner at the time. Throughout his career, Dylan has never performed “Farewell, Angelina” in public, and in interviews, he has often demurred from offering a concrete explanation. In October of 1965, Baez recorded “Farewell, Angelina” for the release of her sixth studio album, and the song’s title eventually became the record’s title. Baez’s album “Farewell, Angelina,” which also included three other Dylan songs, signaled a shift from her prior focus on American folk songs and ballads to a more “contemporary” sound with the inclusion of bass and electric guitar.

“Farewell, Angelina” peaked at # 10 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart, and Baez became associated with the song, even more so than Dylan. In the ensuing decades, “Farewell, Angelina” has been famously interpreted by a variety of artists, including Judy Collins, John Mellencamp, the Grateful Dead, and Jeff Buckley.

Folk singers Joan Baez and Bob Dylan during the Civil Rights March on August 28th, 1963 in Washington, D.C.
Album cover for Joan Baez’s Farewell, Angelina (1965)

In Dylan’s “Farewell, Angelina,” its melody was potentially inspired by several sources, including “Farewell to Tarwathie,” a mid-nineteenth-century Scottish ballad by George Scroggie, which in turn inspired the “Wagoner’s Lad,” an American folk song that Baez performed on her second studio album. American cowboy songs from the Lomax Collection, such as “I Ride An Old Paint,” “The Railroad Corral,” and “Rye Whiskey,” may also have played a role in shaping the strophic contour and melodic material of “Farewell, Angelina.” Dylan’s poetry details the mindset of a protagonist’s “everyday love… set against the backdrop of a derailing, unhinged world.” [1] Throughout the six verses of “Farewell, Angelina,” each with nine lines, the protagonist warns Angelina that they must part from one another. With ominous descriptions of the sky’s transformation from on fire, to trembling, to folding, to changing color, to being embarrassed, and then finally, to erupting, a foreboding sense of an imminent apocalyptic event provides the song’s cohesive narrative arc. 

“Farewell, Angelina” performed by Joan Baez
℗ 1990 Vanguard Records, a Welk Music Group Company
Les Surprises et l’Océan (1927) by René Magritte

Beyond the protagonist’s unsettling farewell to Angelina, Michael Gray in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia observes that the remaining imagery in “Farewell, Angelina” is surreal, juxtaposing unrelated images and events to evoke feelings of ambiguity and uncertainty in the listener. Without explanation, a table stands empty by the edge of the sea. A host of card-like characters, jacks, queens, the deuce, and the ace, “forsake the courtyard,” but for what reason is unclear.

Menacing “cross-eyed pirates” shoot tin cans with a sawed-off shotgun as their neighbors gleefully applaud. On nearby rooftops, unique figures materialize; King Kong tangos with “little elves.” The final stanza of “Farewell, Angelina” climaxes with a terrifying hellscape from which the protagonist must flee. Dylan writes,

The machine guns are roaring

The puppets heave rocks

The fiends nail time bombs

To the hands of the clocks

Call me any name you like

I will never deny it

Farewell, Angelina

The sky is erupting

I must go where it’s quiet

It is impossible, however, not to observe the political and cultural critique of the violence, inequality, and corruption within 1965 American society inherent in Dylan’s text. In the year Dylan composed “Farewell, Angelina,” the United States was confronting the effects of the draft, the Vietnam War, as well as the increasing momentum of the civil rights movement. As President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed his vision of America as the “Great Society,” Malcolm X was assassinated in Manhattan. In Selma, Alabama, hundreds of peaceful civil rights protestors, demanding equal voting and Constitutional rights for Black Americans, were brutally beaten by state troopers on Bloody Sunday. Draft cards were burned publicly at anti-war rallies, while the US government increased troop numbers in Vietnam to 125,000, as draft numbers doubled.

As civil and voting rights protests spread across the nation, white supremacist and state-sanctioned violence against civil rights activists escalated. Again, it is difficult not to imagine that the puppets, fiends, pirates, cheering neighbors, and the makeup man who “shut[s] the eyes of the dead not to embarrass anyone” in Dylan’s poetry embody these pro-war, white supremacist factions within American society, who were committed to upholding their twisted vision of the “status quo” at all costs. 

Protesters march against the Vietnam War at the U.S. Capitol on November 15th, 1969
Photo: Associated Press
John Lewis (later U.S. Congressman) is beaten by a state trooper in Selma, Alabama, on March 7th, 1965
Photo: Associated Press

In 2019, composer Melissa Dunphy arranged Farewell, Angelina for solo voice and viola, commissioned by soprano Elise Brancheau for a concert benefiting coLAB Arts in Philadelphia, PA. Brancheau describes her impetus for the commission as follows,

The words, while strange and surreal, seemed to perfectly depict the sense of unrest and violence that fills our world today. The intimacy of the repeated ‘farewells’ to a loved one while the world literally falls apart feels especially poignant; the almost absurd contrast between lines like ‘I’ll see you in awhile’ and ‘the sky is falling’ reminds me of the feeling of wanting to draw inward and deny the frightening things happening around us while also being unable to ignore them. I began imagining what the music would sound like if it reflected the sense of chaos and destruction of Dylan’s poetry, and commissioned Melissa Dunphy to compose such an arrangement for voice and viola.

Protestors gather at the U.S. Capitol to march against police brutality and racial injustice on June 6th, 2020
Photo: Getty Images/AFP/R. Schmidt
Funeral director Omar Rodriguez looks over caskets of those who died from COVID-19 in Queens, New York (2020)
Photo: REUTERS/Bryan R. Smith
Protestors march on Juneteenth across Brooklyn Bridge in support of Black Lives Matter (2020)

Like Brancheau, I was drawn to Dunphy’s arrangement of Farewell, Angelina for both musical and textual reasons. Musically, Dunphy’s setting for voice and viola created a taut dialogue, in which the voice engaged with repetitive text and a strophic melody. In turn, the viola imbued each stanza with its own distinct musical motif, as the repetition of the melody and text coasted above the evolving viola line. Textually, I agreed with Brancheau that Farewell, Angelina “perfectly depict[ed] the sense of unrest and violence that fills our world today.”

I could not help but relate Dylan’s poetry to 2020, the year of the pandemic. It was a year of helplessly watching the number of COVID-19 fatalities in the United States rise to over 565,000 of a global death toll of 2.9 million human beings, the fear and trauma sustained by health care and front-line workers, the loss of jobs, opportunity, and stability for so many, and the powerlessness of having an administration that not only had no plan to save our lives, but filled the airwaves with lies and took no responsibility for their ineptitude, bigotry, and the cruelty of their actions. It was the year of witnessing the brutal killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement, which culminated in a summer of sweeping and powerful civil rights protests. It was the year of the presidential election as proponents of active voter suppression, conspiracy theorists, peddlers of misinformation, as well as foreign entities joined forces to undermine our democracy. I find that the hellscape of Dylan’s imagination in “Farewell, Angelina,” although composed over 55 years ago, does not feel so completely surreal considering the past year’s events.

In the week after Thanksgiving, our original plan was to film Dunphy’s Farewell, Angelina on the National Mall amongst the monuments. By connecting this musical work to the Mall’s highly charged historical and political landscape, we wished to be, at least obliquely, in conversation with the cultural critique embedded in Dylan’s poem. We also, though, desired to connect Farewell, Angelina to our experiences creating art and confronting our roles as artists during the pandemic. We wanted this short film to explore our protagonist’s compulsion to create something from their lived experiences during these uncertain times.

For our concept, Flavia, the violist, busks to earn extra money from the scant tourists that still manage to visit the National Mall. As she and I pass through the monuments, we each have a different aim: she, to find her busking spot, and me, to simply take a walk on a sunny day. In doing so, we share the same path, our lives intertwining without our knowledge. I linger, listening to her music-making, and that, in and of itself, bonds us for a moment. As the Capstone plans solidified, however, we encountered COVID-19-related obstacles, and the shoot was cancelled two weeks prior. Still committed to our original concept, we rescheduled the film shoot in Washington DC for the week of January 11th.

Still of violist Flavia Pajaro Van-de Stadt from Farewell, Angelina
Photo: Elizabeth Van Os

Five days prior, on January 6th, 2021, the insurrection at the Capitol occurred. I watched, only a few miles away, as the violence unfolded on television. I felt a mixture of utter sadness and numbness. With little time to reflect on the insanity of our national situation, I turned to the film shoot, scheduled for five days later. Over the next week, National Guard troops amassed in the city by the tens of thousands to ensure a safe and peaceful inauguration of President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Pro-Trump insurrectionists attack the Capitol Police on January 6th, 2021
Photo: Roberto Schmidt/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

I remember feeling ridiculous: were we really going to push ahead with our creative plans a week after an attempted coup against our government, not to mention the pandemic raging throughout the country? Were we intrepid, or terribly out of touch? I suppose, a combination of both. I am not yet quite sure how to define what we were in that moment, but regardless, we chose to set off for the Mall on January 13th. For safety concerns, however, we did not venture past the Washington Monument. Flavia and I traced a particular path: beginning at the Lincoln Memorial, walking along the Reflecting Pool, past the World War II Memorial, and finishing at the Washington Monument.

Six days later, on January 19th, President-elect Biden would stand on the path we had tread. In front of the Lincoln Memorial, he would mark the first instance of televised national mourning for the loss of 400,000 Americans to COVID-19. Along the Reflecting Pool, lanterns were lit against the backdrop of night falling, representing the lives of those who had died. Vice President-elect Harris, who days later would become the first woman and person of color to hold her national office, spoke, “For many months, we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together.” [3]

President-elect Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff during a COVID-19 memorial at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool (2021)
Photo: Associated Press

Watch

Farewell, Angelina by Melissa Dunphy from I take the long way there

Notes

  1. Tony Attwood, “Farewell Angelina: How come Bob Dylan never played it again?” Untold Dylan, December 11, 2018, https://bob-dylan.org.uk/archives/9277. 
  2. Melissa Dunphy, “Farewell, Angelina (2019),” Melissa Dunphy: Composer|Mormolyke Press, https://www.melissadunphy.com/composition.php?id=92.
  3. Associated Press, “Biden Marks Nation’s COVID Grief Before Inauguration Pomp,” U.S. News & World Report, January 19, 2021, https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2021-01-19/biden-harris-take-break-from-inaugural-prep-to-mark-mlk-day.
Suffragist Series: Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)

Suffragist Series: Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)

Suffragist Series highlights the fascinating suffrage activists that I researched as dramaturg for A Women’s Suffrage Splendiferous Extravaganza! (AWSSE!), a new vaudeville-inspired revue about the history of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. It has been an eye-opening experience to confront how little I knew about the history of the women’s suffrage movement, and I look forward to sharing more about the lives and contributions of these remarkable activists. For more information about AWSSE! and to follow its newest developments, check out my projects.

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)

Mary Church Terrell was an eminent Black writer, educator, and civil rights activist, who co-founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and was an original signatory of the charter to establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Born in Memphis to an affluent family, her parents, who were both formerly enslaved, were successful entrepreneurs. Her mother, Louisa Ayres Church, owned a hair salon, and Terrell’s father, Robert Reed Church, was the first African American millionaire in the South. Terrell’s parents stressed the importance of education, and Terrell attended Oberlin Academy and Oberlin College, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Classical Languages, as well as a Master’s degree. Upon graduation, Terrell taught at Wilberforce College in Ohio, and in 1887, she moved to Washington DC to teach at the M Street Colored High School (which later became Dunbar High School).

Mary Church Terrell, ca. 1880-1900
Photo: Library of Congress

In 1892, Terrell grieved the loss of a close friend from Memphis, Thomas Moss, who was violently lynched by a white mob over the success of his business. Between 1877 and 1950, Moss was one of approximately 4,000 victims of lynching in the southern United States. [1] This tragedy spurred Terrell’s activism: she collaborated with her friend and famed journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) to organize national anti-lynching campaigns, as well as lobbied President Benjamin Harrison with civil rights activist and author Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) to condemn lynching.

NAACP Silent Protest Parade, Fifth Avenue in New York City (1917)
Photo: Underwood and Underwood; Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Ida B. Wells, ca. 1893-1894
Photo: Ida B. Wells Papers; University of Chicago Library

In 1896, Terrell co-founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), serving as its first president. The NACW adopted her motto, “Lifting As We Climb,” which exemplified Terrell’s philosophy of community uplift to improve the daily lives of Black Americans and combat the virulent racial discrimination that they faced through education, activism, and employment opportunities.

“Lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition ere long … Seeking no favors because of our color nor patronage because of our needs, we knock at the bar of justice and ask for an equal chance.”


Mary Church Terrell, “What Role Is the Educated Negro Woman to Play in the Uplifting of Her Race?” (1902)
Banner with motto of Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Photo: National Association of Colored Women (1896)
Mary Church Terrell (fourth from left) with activists picketing outside Murphy’s five-and-dime for refusing to serve African Americans (early 1950’s)
Photo: Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University Archives
Portrait of Mary Church Terrell
by Betsy Graves Reyneau (1888-1964);
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

In service of education for all African Americans, Terrell served on the Washington Board of Education from 1895 to 1901 and from 1906 to 1911. She was also a passionate advocate for women’s suffrage. Undeterred by the racism that coursed through the women’s suffrage movement, Terrell advocated for the voting rights of Black women, stating that suffrage was not only an essential tool for self-enfranchisement, but would also uplift all African Americans. At the biennial meetings of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), Terrell spoke in 1898 and 1900, stressing that Black women were forced to confront the double barriers of racial and gender discrimination. Terrell’s intersectional outlook deeply informed her activism as a suffragist; she picketed Woodrow Wilson’s White House with members of the National Woman’s Party and spoke at the International Council of Women in Germany in 1904, presenting her speech in German.

Terrell became a sought-after speaker and writer in the United States and abroad, and in 1940, she published her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, which described the successes, challenges, and discrimination she faced throughout her career as a Black woman activist and educator. After World War II, Terrell’s fight for social justice continued, and she worked to end legal segregation in Washington DC. While DC had passed anti-discrimination laws in the 1870’s, twenty years later, these laws had been eroded. African Americans were banned and excluded from public places, such as restaurants. In 1950, Terrell and her activist colleagues entered segregated Thompson Restaurant, asking to be served. The group was refused, and they sued. Terrell continued to target segregationist polices through boycotts, picketing, and sit-ins. In 1953, segregated eating places were declared unconstitutional in Washington DC, and in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

That same year, at the age of ninety-one, Terrell died in Highland Beach, Maryland. In the face of violence, ignorance, and prejudice, Mary Church Terrell tirelessly devoted her life to the advance of equal rights for Black Americans through supporting anti-lynching legislation and women’s suffrage, dismantling segregation laws, and advocating for equal access to education and economic opportunities for all.

Notes

  1. Kendra Kneisley, “Lifting As We Climb: The Life of Mary Church Terrell,” She Shapes History: Berkshire Museum, https://explore.berkshiremuseum.org/digital-archive/she-shapes-history/lifting-as-we-climb-the-life-of-mary-church-terrell.
  2. Tyina Steptoe, “Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954),” Black Past, January 19, 2007, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/terrell-mary-church-1863-1954.
  3. “Mary Church Terrell,” National Park Service, January 16, 2020, https://www.nps.gov/people/mary-church-terrell.htm.
  4. Debra Michals, “Marcy Church Terrell,” National Women’s History Museum, 2017 https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/mary-church-terrell.
  5. Allison Lange, “National Organization of Colored Women,” National Women’s History Museum, 2015, http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/nacw.
Behind the Scenes with A Women’s Suffrage Splendiferous Extravaganza!

Behind the Scenes with A Women’s Suffrage Splendiferous Extravaganza!

Go behind the scenes with co-creators November Christine, Caroline Miller, and myself as we discuss our upcoming staged readings of A Women’s Suffrage Splendiferous Extravaganza! on November 5th and 6th, 2021 at Alchemical Studios in New York City!

For more information and updates on AWSSE!, check out my projects.

Photo: Harris & Ewing; Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Division

Barbara Strozzi: Portrait as Gossip, Rumor, and Innuendo

Barbara Strozzi: Portrait as Gossip, Rumor, and Innuendo

Reflections on Barbara Strozzi’s È giungerà pur mai (1664)

Barbara Strozzi’s È giungerà pur mai was performed as part of Portraits: The Self Illuminated. For more information on this program, check out my projects.

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677)

What occurs when a person’s legacy is heavily informed by a portrait? What if a portrait became the singular image to validate their existence? And what if their existence, or certain details of it, were defined by the fact that their breast was partly exposed?

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) was a Venetian singer, composer, and lutenist. Presumed to be the illegitimate child of Giulio Strozzi, a poet and member of the Accademia degli Incogniti, an exclusive society of all-male Venetian intellectuals, Barbara was well-educated and excelled in music, studying composition with composer Francesco Cavalli.

Her father supported and publicly promoted her work. In 1637, he founded the Accademia degli Unisoni, a society dedicated to music at the Strozzi home. At the Accademia’s meetings, Barbara would often premiere and perform her newest compositions. From 1644 to 1664, she published eight volumes of music. Notably, Barbara published under her own name, which was highly unusual for a woman of her day.

Most of her compositions, such as È giungerà pur mai (1664), were written for treble voice(s) with continuo and occasional obbligato instruments. Barbara was particularly adept at illustrating the emotional drama of her texts, often highlighting specific words with highly dissonant harmonies and unexpected harmonic progressions.

Music making company, attributed to Niccolò Frangipane (active 1563–1597) Palais Dorotheum, Vienna
Female Musician with Viola da Gamba (1635-1639) by Bernardo Strozzi

In È giungerà pur mai, Barbara sets text by Giuseppe Artale, who employs a playful rhetorical device. Is the object of the narrator’s affections… Barbara herself? The miserable narrator of Artale’s poem, rejected in love, claims “Troppo Barbara e crudele,” translated as “Too barbarous and cruel” or “Too cruel is Barbara.” Later, the narrator states, “Anco Barbara t’adoro,” translated as “Even barbarous, I adore you,” or “Yet I adore you, Barbara.” These double meanings are further highlighted by the fact that Strozzi may have performed this piece herself, ensuring that this “‘Barbarous-Barbara” allusion was not lost on her audience.

Why, though, does Bernando Strozzi’s portrait, Female Musician with Viola da Gamba (1635-1639), which is believed to be a likeness of Barbara Strozzi, matter? It has inevitably shaped the public perception of her life, often overshadowing aspects of her work. Due to Barbara’s public role as a scholar, composer, and musician, satires were circulated by male contemporaries, labelling Barbara as a courtesan, with criticism such as, “It is a fine thing to distribute the flowers after having already surrendered the fruit.” [1] Strozzi’s status as an unmarried woman with four children, potentially from a relationship with Giovanni Paolo Vidman, further strengthened the “Strozzi as courtesan” rumors. These rumors began circulating in 1630’s Venice and remain pervasive to this day. Although there is no explicit historical evidence to prove these claims, musicologists have attempted to validate (or invalidate) their accuracy. 

Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, Germany (2019)
Photo: Noelle McMurtry

Female Musician with Viola da Gamba (1635-1639) depicts a young woman with flowers in her hair, a musical score resting next to her elbow, and a viola da gamba and bow in hand. She seems to be on the verge of making music and stares unabashedly at the viewer. One of her breasts is removed from the bodice of her dress. While depictions of exposed breasts have symbolized “woman as courtesan” in Western European art history, representations of women’s breasts have also contained a myriad of cultural meanings, including fertility and abundance. It seems that Barbara’s semi-nudity, paired with malicious gossip of her day, provided sufficient “proof” of her status as courtesan to carry into musicological explorations of her life and work throughout the centuries. A newer, less sexualized interpretation by Candace Magner, however, suggests that Barbara embodies Flora, the Roman goddess of nature, flowers, spring, and fertility. [2] 

In 2019, as I visited the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, I came upon this portrait, unaware that it was part of the Dresden collection. I instantly recognized Barbara Strozzi, not due to the viola da gamba and her musical score, but due to her exposed breast. I realized that this narrative about her sexuality, based on rumor, gossip and innuendo, had entered my consciousness. The weight of being pursued through time by a semi-exposed breast, of having one’s personal narrative defined by a single detail is a larger reflection of the historic judgments placed on women and their bodies as creative agents.

Watch

È giungerà pur mai, Op. 8
Cameron Welke, theorbo
December 2019, Peabody Institute

Notes

  1. Candace A Magner, “A Short History of Barbara Strozzi.” In È giungerà pur mai. Cor Donato Editions, 2015.
  2. Magner, “A Short History.”