Opening March 31st is a new production of Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLE on Broadway strarring Saoirse Ronan, directed by Ivo Van Hove, produced by Scott Rudin, with new music by Philip Glass. While I cannot speak for today, I can say that Arthur Miller’s works Death of a Salesman and The Crucible were staples of American literature in American schools when I was younger. As a young dope, I remember clearly not connecting with the former, mostly I believe, because living in a fairly well to do suburb of Boston, I couldn’t imagine a person such as Willie Loman positioning himself in life in such miserable and futile life.
Of course this is only one shallow element of “Salesman”, but for a 12 or 13 year old in the late 1980s the idea of a traveling salesman was kind of passé and not something I could really connect to other than understanding that one needed to find a purpose in life which was spiritually fulfilling. This impression was reinforced in 2012 when I saw Death of a Salesman on Broadway with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield. If Hoffmann couldn’t make Loman relevant and meaningful to me, then no one could. And to put it plainly, he couldn’t.
The Crucible on the other hand has the sex appeal and relevancy that anyone could want. Real life witch trials! Who wouldn’t be interested in that? Add to that my hometown bordered the place, Salem Massachusetts, where the events of the real witch trials took place (Indeed I’m writing this piece today at my desk in downtown Salem). In general I’ve always gravitated to the macabre and dark and as school kids we’d take field trips to all the locales which are “haunted” to this day. While I always had trouble connecting to Salesman, Miller wrote The Crucible in the early 1950s in response to McCarthyism. At this point in history, it’s pretty clear that hysteria and political mobs as a basic human need, inasmuch Miller’s Crucible will always be relevant and immediately present in our lives. One need look no further than the current American political campaign.
I believe this last fact to be what attracted Philip Glass to the scoring of this place at this specific time. Glass composed about 30 minutes of new music for violin and cello which, in the live production, is complimented by sort of traditional protestant hymn songs and some droning. The music itself doesn’t play at all to the period. It’ll be interesting to see the visual interpretation and how it corresponds to Glass’s new music.
Within the palette of what Glass has written for the combination of violin and cello – I can think of only two examples to contrast The Crucible against. The first would be the music Glass wrote for the 1993 production of Jane Bowles play “In the Summer House” and the recent “Duos Nos.1-5” which were composed for and drawn from Glass’s 2010 Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra.
It must be said that this complete music for violin and cello has become an interesting micro-genre for Glass. In some ways, his music for “In the Summer House” can be heard as pure mood music. There are some moments of stunning beauty and stasis. The duos from the Double Concerto are much more classical in flavor and sound. That concerto was designed as a ballet, and the four duets in that piece became music for the two principal dancers that were set apart from the big orchestra tapestry. Glass later added a fifth fast paced duet as a scherzo movement, No.1a, for when the duos are performed as a piece of chamber music.
Salem Mass, as it is today in 2016
The music for The Crucible seems to fit somewhere in between. It has a through-composed feeling to it event though it essentially functions as incidental music. The music is dynamic and varied but doesn’t seem to make any attempt to connect to any existing sound-world that would have existed in Salem in 1692. With that said, Glass made the decision to use a string quartet for his 1998 score to Dracula because the medium evoked an ancient sound. When one thinks of what music might have existed in Salem at that time (if indeed the Puritans permitted music?), the year that J.S. Bach turned 7 years old, it would have surely been perhaps a violin on guitar.
It’s very exciting to find out how it’ll all work within the drama. I hope to attend The Crucible in the coming weeks. I’ll report back when I know more.