Gertrude Stein‘s writings have been a goldmine for composers of the past 50 years, if we are to judge from the innumerable examples of her texts set to music, yet a Broadway musical is, to my knowledge, a unique case among more Avantgarde settings. ‘Gertrude Stein is an index for us’, said composer Al Carmines (Reverend Alvin Allison Carmines, 1936-2005) who, as a minister at New York’s Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square Park between the early 1960s and 1982, promoted contemporary theatre and dance performances inside the Church itself. A gifted pianist, he also wrote some of the music used in these shows, to the point of composing several musicals, often with stage direction by Larry Kornfeld. Premiered in 1967, In Circles is based on A Circular Play: A Play In Circles, a collection of short texts Stein published in 1920, infused with an obsession for circular forms typical from this writer. The ’67 stage version was such a success it was transported Off-Broadway to Cherry Lane Theatre the following year. In Circles uses the elliptic, short texts of the original book as the basis for a collection of joyous numbers for small ensemble and voices, with Carmines at the piano and the voices of 10 singers. The ensemble includes tack piano, celesta, cello and drums. The irresistible melodies cover many genres, from lullaby to ragtime, romantic love song to spiritual, and what liner notes call ‘barbershop quartet’. At some point in the early 1970s, Juilliard School student Charlemagne Palestine was hired by director Jayne Mooney Brookes (see here) to write a piano+voice score of In Circles, as a proper written score was not available from Al Carmines. The LP might have more to do with Minimalism than meets the eye – after all, the title starts like In C.
01 Side 1 (24:55)
02 Side 2 (23:50)
Total time 48:45
LP released by Avant Garde Records, Inc., NY, 1968