Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Ansari, Emily Abrams. “‘Vindication, Cleansing, Catharsis, Hope’: Interracial Reconciliation and the Dilemmas of Multiculturalism in Kay and Dorr’s Jubilee (1976).” American Music 31 (Winter 2013): 379-419.

African American composer Ulysses Kay and white librettist Donald Dorr’s 1976 opera Jubilee expresses the early stages of the political ideology of multiculturalism in confronting the history of American slavery in the context of the US Bicentennial celebrations for which it was commissioned. Kay’s use of historical musical forms and quotations reflects the creators’ nuanced approach to the opera’s subject matter. Kay’s early composing career is marked by an adherence to universalism and a denial of the influence of race on his music. This attitude changed with his work on Jubilee, which dealt explicitly with racial politics. The opera’s multiculturalist approach is evident in the lynching scene, modeled on the auto-da-fé in Verdi’s Don Carlo. In this scene, three racially segregated choruses—white planters singing a patriotic song, poor whites singing a chorus based on the folksong Goober Peas, and slaves singing the hymn Flee as a Bird to the Mountain gather to celebrate the Fourth of July and to witness the hanging of a slave woman. No single chorus is dominant over the others and they each reveal complex reactions to the proceedings from different nineteenth-century cultural viewpoints. Jubilee does not shy away from depicting the horrors of slavery, but it also does not demonize white Americans. The final scene offers a different model of multicultural reconciliation and is scored with ragtime music, a genre marked by stylistic fusion between African American and European American traditions. Despite its initial reception as a symbol of healing, Jubilee has not been produced since its initial run. However, the main concern of Jubilee—the ideology of multiculturalism and the challenges of trading cultural uniqueness for social cohesion—is still an ongoing concern in American culture.

Works: Ulysses Kay: Jubilee (397-403)

Sources: Traditional: Rise Up Shepherds an’ Foller (397-99), Goober Peas (401-2), Flee as a Bird to the Mountain (402-3); Verdi: Don Carlo (400-3)

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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