Ezra Pound

Biography

Born: October 30, 1885; Hailey, ID   Died: November 1, 1972; Venice, Italy  
Music was integral to the mental workings of poet Ezra Pound, who habitually hummed a tuneless warble (like the yowling of a bass Siamese cat) while he worked at his typewriter. His efforts in actual practice of music came from his barbarian self-confidence. William Carlos Williams remembered the musically illiterate young Pound setting Liszt scores before himself at the piano and "letting fly." He said: "anything resulted except music." Pound's Read more 1914 meeting with Arnold Dolmetsch later got him interested in early music, mostly monophonic medieval song. He ordered a clavichord from Dolmetsch, which, over the years, he learned to play "quite fluidly." One of Pound's best early poems is a parody of the medieval English round Summer is a-comin in, transformed into a Vorticist vociferation: "Winter is a-comin in/Lhude sing Goddamm." Other performance activities included reciting his poetry in a mesmerizing, singsong style and performing in George Antheil's Sonata for drum and piano. Pound once even tried, to everybody's horror, to learn the bassoon. Fortunately, within a couple of months, he wrote "The bassoon slumbers." Seeing an opportunity to advance his causes by championing Antheil, Pound threw together a book in 1923 called Antheil and the Treatise on Harmony. It was mostly a paste-up of the hilarious music reviews Pound had published under the name "William Atheling," and its obnoxious incompetence probably cost Antheil a career as a serious composer. His main assertions (spelled out in ALL CAPS) were essentially that melody is for twits because it doesn't exist anyway, and that rules should be chucked because any sound can follow any other sound. Most significant in Pound's musical bio is the too-often forgotten fact that he and lifelong mistress Olga Rudge (a concert violinist) spearheaded the revival of the music of Vivaldi at a time when Vivaldi's music was considered merely twee. In 1923, Pound's dabbling also resulted in actual compositions. Starting with some violin arrangements of troubadour songs for Rudge, he next wrote, in 1924, Le testament de villon, a one-act opera. When Williams heard the news -- "I have made an opera" -- he said in disbelief "Why, he doesn't know one note from another!" Pound freely admitted his tone-deafness, inexperience, and musical illiteracy, but was not deterred; that boldness is the charm of his strange music. In fact, for a time after the first performance of Le testament, cautiously praised by Virgil Thompson, he described himself as "Ezra Pound: Poet and Composer." Read less

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