1923 Le Testament

1st opera by Ezra Pound
'Le Testament 1923 facsimile edition' of Ezra Pound's first opera, with audio CD, essays by Stephen J. Adams, Robert Hughes, Margaret Fisher, the definitive ur text, published by Second Evening Art 
Le Testament 1923 facsimile edition with audio CD
The definitive manuscript (ϋr text) for Ezra Pound’s first opera in facsimile, 110 color plates
Composed by Ezra Pound, edited by George Antheil
Libretto by François Villon and Ezra Pound
Annotations by Robert Hughes
Essays by Stephen J. Adams, Robert Hughes, Margaret Fisher

Second Evening Art Publishing, 2011, limited edition
270 pages, P.U.R. perfectbound (paper), shrinkwrapped, audio CD, ISBN 9780972885980, list $125.00
Digitized, re-mastered recording of the 1971 world stage premiere with the San Francisco Opera
Purchase: amazon

“A magisterial accomplishment.” A. David Moody, author of Ezra Pound, Poet Vols. 1, 2, 3 (Oxford University Press).
Audio excerpts below.

About the opera

The one-act opera in two scenes dramatizes the hour in which French poet François Villon (b.1431) pens his most famous poem, Le Testament. Duration: c. 50 minutes.

Scene One: a square fronted by a brothel, a bar and a church in Villon’s Paris, circa 1462. Condemned to death and with a warrant out for his arrest, Villon sits before the tavern writing his “last will and irrevocable testament.” Too poor to have material goods, he wills his poetry and his wit to friends and enemies alike. Three arias on the pervasiveness of death, and two arias of regret for lost youth and for lost beauty set the mood: time is the evil. This is confirmed with the boisterous arrival of the old whore Heaulmière who sings of lost charms and old beaux. A procession of colorful characters from Villon’s Paris follows: a gallant en route to the brothel sings of love; Villon’s mother sings for the salvation of all; Bozo the drunken brothel keeper sings of his sordid life; the spent gallant stumbles from the brothel to renounce love. The scene climaxes with a group drinking song in praise of Noah and the vine, the arrival of the police and the arrest of Villon.

Scene Two: The opera concludes with an eerie and preternatural scene evocative of the Noh drama: six corpses strung from the gibbet sing for the salvation of their souls (Frères humains).

About the book

Part I. Facsimile pages of the holograph score with music in the hand of Pound’s music editor George Antheil, lyrics in the hand of Ezra Pound, and performance notes in the hands of A. E. Harding of the B.B.C. and Ezra Pound, the latter being revisions for the 1931 BBC broadcast as an experimental features program. Music pages are beautifully photographed in 110 color plates and displayed against a glossy black background, with bar numbers added to the score. A complete libretto and a synopsis follow. 125 pages.

Part II. An overview of Pound’s music by Stephen J. Adams of University of Western Ontario; Essays on the relationship of music to Pound’s poetry by Robert Hughes and Margaret Fisher. 85 pages.

Part III. Editors’ comments and annotations essential to unraveling the manuscript tradition, correcting errors in the music manuscript, and identifying various hands contributing to the manuscript. 52 pages.

Cover art features the designs by Ariel for the 1971 San Francisco Opera production.
Ships with audio CD in a tamper-proof sleeve in the inside back cover.

facsimile title page of 'Le Testament 1923 facsimile edition,' Ezra Pound's first opera, published by Second Evening Art 
Title page, 1923 holograph score


    • “...a modernist triumph...” Richard Taruskin, New York Times.   Read the full review.
    • “...has historic interest...” American Record Guide, Sept/Oct 2003.
    • “...fresh and fascinating...  This idiosyncratic body of work proves to be full of rare pleasures and well worth hearing.” Joshua Rosenblum, Opera News, August 2003.   Read the full review.
    • “There’s a passion in this music which is compelling....  Of all the poets who’ve dabbled in music, Ezra Pound was the most ambitious... the performances have a strange intensity, like a cross between Carmina Burana and Diamanda Galas.” Ivan Hewett, BBC Music Magazine, August 2003.
    • “...it may well be the finest poet’s music since Thomas Campion....  It bore family resemblances unmistakable to the Socrate of Satie; and its sound has remained in my memory.”
      Virgil Thomson in Virgil Thomson.

Audio Excerpts from the CD

From the audio CD

Dites moy.   Philip Booth, baritone, in the role of François Villon.

Dame du ciel.   Sandra Bush, mezzo-soprano in the role of Villon’s mother.

Villon and Heaulmière.   Philip Booth as Villon and Dorothy Barnhouse as La Heaulmière.

Frères Humains.   University of California Chamber Singers, Renee Blowers, Director.

Performing Forces

  • Cast (in order of appearance)
    • Villon: Bass-baritone
    • Ythier: Low Tenor
    • Beauté: Soprano
    • Heaulmière: Alto
    • Gallant: High Tenor
    • Gantière: Soprano
    • Villon’s Mother: Alto
    • Voice from Church: Soprano
    • Priest: Bass Taille, as deep as possible
    • Brothel Keeper (Bozo): Basso Profondo
    • Sixth Pendu: male voice (may be performed by cello or contrabass)
    • Chorus (can be drawn from singers above or augmented at the director’s discretion)
  • Orchestra
    • Fl (dbl picc), Ob, Sax, Bsn, F. Horn, Tpt, Tbn (2), Perc (timpani, drums, bells), “bass bells” (4, or prepared piano or synthesizer), Nose-flute (or ‘common flute’ executing an overblown descending gliss), Mandolins (plural), Pno, Vln, VC, CB (3 or 4)

Rental Parts

Parts and conductor's score: contact Second Evening Art Publishing, 1420 45th St. #16, Emeryville CA 94608, (USA) 510-653-5009.

About the Editors

For the publication of Pound’s complete oeuvre of music, Robert Hughes and Margaret Fisher received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ezra Pound Society (2014).

Robert Hughes, composer, conductor, and bassoonist, met Pound in Washington, D.C. Their brief discussion about music led Hughes to mount Pound’s first opera Le Testament with the San Francisco Opera in 1971. He assembled Pound’s complete second opera Cavalcanti from manuscripts that had become separated over time and premiered that work in San Francisco with the Arch Ensemble for Experimental Music. He has also published performance editions of Pound’s complete works for violin. Hughes is conductor and artistic director of two audio CD’s of Pound's music.

Margaret Fisher, Ph.D., is an independent scholar and performance/media artist. She is the author of Ezra Pound’s Radio Operas: The BBC Experiments (The MIT Press) and The Recovery of Ezra Pound’s 3rd Opera, Collis O Heliconii (Second Evening Art).

Le Testament 1923 facsimile edition with audio CD
Purchase: amazon