THE HAPPY PRINCE
Jocelyn Mackey, Pan Pipes of Sigma Alpha Iota, Summer 1981
JAN BACH: The Happy Prince. Nebraska Sinfonia (Thomas Briccetti, Conductor), Dalia Bach, Narrator, Stephen Shipps, Violin. Limited Classics, Inc. 2132 South 45th St. Omaha, Nebraska 68106. LCI 101.
During this Convention year, with its Inter-American Music Awards Competition, SAIs will find pleasure in learning that past winners have continued to create and obtain recognition. Jan Bach, of the Northem Illinois University Music Faculty, was awarded the Fraternity's composition prize in 1974; five years later, he won the Omaha Symphony Guild's New Music Competition with The Happy Prince. Oscar Wilde's beloved story tells of a swallow who, enroute to Egypt, pauses at the golden statue of the Happy Prince. The Prince weeps because he sees the poverty and need in his city and asks the swallow to help by taking to the needy first, jewels (including his eyes), then the gold leaf which adorns him. The swallow, devoted to the Prince, remains through the winter and dies. The Town Council orders the shabby statue melted down, but the broken lead heart does not melt and is thrown on a heap with the body of the swallow. God sends an angel to bring the most precious two things in the city; when the heart and the bird are brought, He says that the choice is right, for the bird will sing forever and the Happy Prince shall praise me.
Bach states that he "loved this story when I first heard it at the age of ten. . . . It took me thirty years to gain the compositional techniques I felt necessary to write this music which I hope will complement, rather than detract from, this unusual Victorian tale, so full of the religious symbols of charity, redemption and resurrection." He succeeds admirably. The original words are read by a narrator, who must find the precise spaces in the music for each phrase and sentence. Rather than merely providing a background, the orchestra acts as an equal commentator/partner with the speaker. The solo violin represents the swallow, the hom section the prince. The lush romanticism of the music is certainly more suited to Wilde's rich prose than less traditional sounds would be. I found the clearly tonal ending very refreshing! This was not meant to be a musical showpiece, but the music is lovely. The Nebraska Sinfonia performs with a balance of drama and restraint. The tonal and color range of the recording is not as wide or clear as usual - perhaps the engineers adapted the sounds so that the narrator stands out, but I could wish for a more true orchestral tone. There are many uses for this record; in addition to pure enjoyment, there is obvious correlation to literary studies. Thank you, Dr. Bach and the Omaha Symphony Guild.