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by Peer

“Margaret Fisher’s two volumes of 2013, The Echo of Villon and The Transparency of Ezra Pound’s Great Bass make a very important claim, namely that musical thought and musical composition are not ancillary to Pound’s poetry but offer a veritable methodology for studying Pound’s prosody structures. Readers who are familiar with even rudiments of musical theory will be able to follow Fisher’s argument, which is written with a clarity especially valuable to a non-musician reader. The payoff is huge – if Fisher is right, we may be able to understand and study Pound’s very special melopoeia using music analysis and digital tools to develop new methodologies. Implicitly, Fisher asks us to acknowledge and study music theory as an obligatory discipline in the Ezuversity curriculum. Her perspective and methodology in The Echo of Villon are derived from her computer-assisted analysis of Pound’s recorded readings....She found a great deal of structural coherence in the relationships and proportions established among them. Pound’s compositional activities between 1930 and 1933, while scoring the successive versions of his opera, Le Testament de François Villon were not a simple diversion from poetry, as traditionally assumed, but rather the workshop in which Pound learned to think in ‘shapes cut in time’ by teaching himself how to compose musical structures adjusted to French quantitative verse. Fisher calls these shapes ‘duration rhymes.’ ”

Roxana Preda, Director, The Cantos Project; Editor, Make It New, Ezra Pound Society

“I read everything that Margaret Fisher writes with great interest and admiration. She and her partner Bob Hughes have, of course, produced beautifully annotated editions of all of Pound’s original music, as well as performances of it; so she is in a better position than anyone to take on the most difficult issues related to it....

“Fisher’s monograph Ezra Pound’s Radio Operas [The MIT Press, 2002] presents new matter and reveals Pound in an unfamiliar guise - that of apprentice to a new technology. The modest subtitle BBC Experiments, 1931-1933 just hints at the broader scope of her study. Emphasis falls here less on Pound the composer than on Pound the media artist...and Fisher gives us as well a fascinating inside view of both the early BBC and the development of radio broadcasting.”

Stephen J. Adams, Co-editor, The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia, author of R. Murray Schafer (1984) & Poetic Designs: An Introduction to English Meters, Verse Forms, and Figures of Speech (1997).

by Press

“Ezra Pound, Musical Crackpot.”
The New York Times,

Regarding the Other Minds audio CD release: “The career of no other artist, perhaps, so nakedly exposes the fineness of the line dividing crackpot from genius.... Much of it [Le Testament] is strangely compelling, if eccentric, stuff.... Performed by singers who are knowing enough to know the effect at which the quixotic rhythms were aiming, Pound’s settings can be somehow superb.... My eye kept straying back to the old French original, which I understood far from perfectly but which nevertheless spoke to me through Pound with uncanny force.

“That went for all the other poems in the Villon ‘opera’ as well: the 80-year-old whore Hëaulmiere’s frantic lament over her withered charms (the opera’s mad scene, if you will, or as Pound called it, ‘the fireworks’); the poet’s mother’s appeal to the Virgin Mary for salvation (set exquisitely by Debussy, infernally by Pound in a manner that conveys a believer’s fear); the drunkards’ prayer (‘Père Noé,’ performed by a raucous chorus with amazing turn-on-a-dime precision); and finally, ‘Frères Humains,’ the bone-freezing plea, in weird Martian-medieval barbershop harmony, of a line of hanged corpses, Villon among them, for fellow feeling. No doubt about it: as George Szell once said of Glenn Gould, that nut was a genius.”

“Le Testament de Villon”
The New York Times,

Regardng the Fantasy Records stereo LP release: “It turns out to be an altogether fascinating piece of work.... What makes the opera so idiosyncratic is the instrumentation. It is full of exotic sounds (e.g., the nose flute) and fragmented, pointillistic distributions of several instruments along a single line.... For all his greater technical skill, Antheil’s work sounds more derivative than Pound’s.”

“Cavalcanti: A Perspective on the Music of Ezra Pound.”

“The missing piece in the puzzle of Ezra Pound has finally been put into place....After decades of teasing references, suggestive rumours, snippets of documentation, this series of publications, coming in rapid succession, finally reveals a full-length portrait of Ezra Pound the composer...

“The importance of music in Pound’s canon - the music that Pound actually wrote - has never been properly weighed. Inaccessibility to the texts is just one reason. Pound’s obvious musical amateurishness is another.... Pound’s music could hardly be better served than by Robert Hughes and Margaret Fisher...

“The Cavalcanti volume is aptly subtitled “A Perspective on the Music of Ezra Pound.” It falls into two parts. The second, about 200 pages long, is a critical text of the fourteen numbers of Pound’s opera in full score, plus a piano reduction for rehearsal purposes, all meticulously edited from Pound’s handwritten drafts. It includes Pound’s intervening dialogue between numbers, written for the radio broadcast, plus a synopsis and an appendix with texts of the songs and English translations.

“The first half of the volume is a 200-page essay that outlines Pound’s compositional career: It includes a fully documented account of the arduous composition of Le Testament, with help from his friend Agnes Bedford and composer George Antheil, plus a perceptive contrast between the first and second operas.”

“Pound: Le Testament.”
Fanfare Magazine,

“I’ve never heard any of Pound’s music before, though I’ve read about it, and I’ll admit I assumed it wouldn’t prove to be very interesting in and of itself. Couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only is it very interesting, it’s also very entertaining and mostly pretty good. Pound was musical from an early age, played piano and bassoon, and consorted with musicians for much of his life. He wrote two ‘operas’ and began a third.... He made aborted attempts to set his own poetry to music, but in his operas he set poetry of masters whose works he studied and translated: François Villon (1431–after 1463), Guido Cavalcanti (c. 1240–1300), and Gaius Valerius Catullus (c. 84–54 BC). For at least the 15-or-so-year span between his beginning Le Testament and the later violin works, Pound took himself seriously as a composer; look to his Canto LXXV (1935). Around the time of [the opera] Cavalcanti, Pound noted his profession as “poet and composer” in the registry of A&C Black’s Who’s Who. Doing some reading in Charles Norman’s biography of the poet, I find many references to others being well aware of this other vocation in the 1920s, for example Hemingway and W. C. Williams (but with varying confidence in the results).”

“Ezra Pound’s Radio Operas.”
Leonardo digital reviews,

“One pleasant surprise is that Fisher’s book does not merely discuss Ezra Pound’s radio operas. Instead it is also a fly-on-the-wall view of how the BBC operated in the 20’s and 30’s. One revelation is that it was the Research Department that got Pound to the microphone not the Music Department.

“Fisher’s style makes you feel almost as if she had been there herself. This is the kind of voice that comes from knowing her subject very well. It is also the kind of writing that benefits readers on many levels Ì from just plain old history, to biography, to even the nature of radio as a medium. She mentions in her acknowledgements that the entire book came out of a project by the composer Robert Hughes, who was working on a study of Pound's other opera, Cavalcanti. She had been developing a chapter for him when she began to examine her own subject more deeply. When writing about Pound, inevitably, the rest of the world creeps in.

“There is so much background information here that one could realistically make a production based on the script and related information. Fisher even gives the address to write to for permission. But this book is a rather sneaky (and brilliant) way to get his work out into the hands of the public. She has managed to make a compelling biographical sketch and at the same time present this rare work. It made me think how nice it would be if every artist or writer had a biography included with presentations of their work. That would ensure context, which is so often lacking in this day and age.”

Download the full article.

“Ezra Pound's Radio Operas.”
Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television,

“Most media historians who remember Ezra Pound doubtless associate him with the radio propaganda of the Second World War, when Pound made a number of broadcasts over Italian radio. These 1941–1945 broadcasts by Pound from Italy to the United States (as well as payments for these broadcasts from the Italian government) led to indictments for treasonagainst Pound by the US government. After the war Pound was incarcerated in a metal cage in US Army facilities in Pisa, and later extradited to the United States in October 1945. In 1946 a jury declared he had an ‘unsound mind’.... Fisher makes a strong and convincing case that Pound’s period as a fascist radio propagandizer is the culmination of a decade engaged in radio experimentation between the BBC and Pound, as well as indicative of an impassioned debate over radio aesthetics that ran throughout Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom — indeed, much of Europe — in the 1930s....

“Beyond placing an historical and aesthetical context for Pound’s transformation into a fascist radio propagandist, Fisher also gives a richly detailed account of the production process between Pound and the BBC leading up to the performance of The Testament of François Villon. Opening her case with a convincing argument demonstrating that the emergence of radio broadcasting was a formative influence on Pound’s writing of The Cantos as early as 1924, she notes Pound wrote his father that same year and said that the structural metaphor for understanding The Cantos was radio in that both were alike: ‘Simplest parallel I can give is radio where you tell who is talking by the noise they make’.

“Fisher not only demonstrates Pound's deep interest in radio, but also, in a brilliant chapter, provides a new perspective on radio history in 1930s Europe by contextualizing the radio theory and practice of Pound with the rise of radio aesthetics and theory across Europe. Drawing on the work of F. T. Marinetti, Bertholt Brecht, Rudolf Arnheim, and others, Fisher reveal that aesthetics and theory can be placed in a central position for approaching European radio history during this period. She extends this approach into the production studio, discussing innovations as echo chambers, resonance, silence, recording tecnologies, and the sound mixing board (also known as the Dramatic Control Panel), thus linking production and aesthetics into a novel, and valuable, reading of radio history during this era.

“Meticulously researched, nicely illustrated, and including a production script for the October 1931 BBC broadcast of The Testament of François Villon, this book is a distinguished contribution to media research.”

“Ezra Pound’s Radio Operas.”
Computer Music Journal,

“Ezra Pound is well known as one of the most important 20th-century poets, but is less well known as a composer or media experimenter. As a critic and writer, his cultural breadth was immense, so it is no surprise to find that his work crossed boundaries so fluidly. This admirably researched and very detailed book, by Margaret Fisher - choreographer, theater and video director, and scholar - provides an absorbing introduction to Pound's work in media and sound, as well as providing a fascinating look at the early days of radio....Once I had gotten into the rhythm of Ms. Fisher’s writing and inquiry, I found that I couldn't put it down.

“One of Ms. Fisher's most valuable contributions in this book is to put Pound's work in radio into the context of other work that was happening at that time....Of particular interest in this history is the discussion of the works of fascist radio broadcasters and experimenters, who, it turns out, until the cementing of fascist political power in the mid 1930s, were also engaged in interesting explorations of radio and its uses. That their work became a tool of oppression is bleak and tragic, but this should not prevent us from looking at this work in the broader spectrum of what was happening with media at the time.”