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Keeping Score In America: Chapter Twelve: The Reconsidered Reverie # 2

By Michael Moriarty
web posted September 9, 2013

Friday is always a time for me to reconsider and reconsider I certainly have. Old enemies are, after almost twenty years of battle, a repetitively boring prospect.

I've decided not to submit my embittered Reverie # 2.

Walt Whitman
America's Greatest Prophet

Instead of dragging out "Old Songs", I must speak of the Divinely Hopeful Specter that has haunted me for much of my entire adult life: Walt Whitman.

What does Whitman really prophecy for America but more of the same?

A Second American Civil War over abortion wouldn't, I dare say, surprise Walt Whitman in the least.

Whitman wrote repeatedly that America's essence would never change and yet never be completely destroyed either. The human race's gravest mistakes will inevitably be tried in the United States of America and found guilty but pardonable in Heaven.

After slavery, that ultimate, Whitmanesque condemnation will fall swiftly and heavily down upon abortion.

No, he's not alive to do it himself, so I've been doing it for him.

Now that we face a Great Divide in the United States that promises to only expand and eventually boil over, reach for your Leaves of Grass.

If you don't have a copy, buy one! If you can't find one soon enough, look here.

Leaves of Grass is a longer piece of work than you might think; and twice a more profound creation than when even I last looked at it.

The Symphony No. 1 I had always planned, began, then abandoned, then began again has finally found its true home: Walt Whitman.

There won't have to be a Symphony # 2 or 3.

Why?

Anything I might possibly want to say symphonically can be contained under the title: The Walt Whitman Symphony. There's really no greater symphonic expression by an American composer or poet than Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

The "defeated", if a symphonic contest were in order, include, surprisingly enough, even George Gershwin and Aaron Copland.

Here are a list of the few composers who have set Whitman's poetry to music:

KURT WEILL: Four Whitman Songs (1941-47)
LARRY ALAN SMITH: Come Up from the Fields, Father (1984)
NED ROREM: War Scenes (1969)
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Three Whitman Songs (1925)
LEE HOIBY: A Clear Midnight; Joy, Shipmate (1988)
RUTH SCHONTHAL: By the Roadside (1975)
LEONARD BERNSTEIN: To What You Said (1976)
CHARLES NAGINSKI: The Ship Starting (ca. 1940)
NORMAN MATHEWS: Grand is the Seen (1993)
NED ROREM: Full of Life Now (1989)

The appearance of Kurt Weill, with his Brechtian connections, was a disturbing revelation.

Oh, well, one can never accuse the Communist elite, or as Weill would be known of now, the Progressive Illuminati, of not having exquisite taste.

Yet, at the time of his life, Walt Whitman was often considered utterly tasteless.

Yes, he was a revolutionary but not one to be thrown into America's virulently expansive, tastefully revolting and revoltingly tasteful yet growing "Progressive Herd".

"Because Whitman was, by his own account, bisexual, he would certainly be a Progressive now!"

I doubt it.

There are more, even purely gay opponents of abortion than the Progressive Elite might want to think there are.

While writing this, I make a shocking discovery: Kurt Weill's setting of Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!"

A shuffle beat?!?!

A jazzy shuffle beat?!?!?!

I beg your pardon, sir!

All is forgiven, however, when I hear Weill's light German tenor singing his very own American classic: Speak Low.

I had two German-speaking theatrical agents… not at the same time!! God help us!!!!

Peter Witt and Robbie Lantz.

Peter was vastly more "Germanic" than Robbie.

Robbie was "Viennese!"

The wittiest and most delightful man of the theater I ever met; and that meant everyone I've ever met.

As I have often said, Robbie Lantz out "Claude Rainsed" Claude Rains.

Kurt Weill sounds like Robbie Lantz singing.

Almost all is forgiven, Mr. Weill.

My late friend, Lee Hoiby, who gave me invaluable assistance with my first major composition, my now, well-proven chestnut, my Symphony For Strings, set a Whitman poem to music as well.

Hmmm… If both Hoiby and Weill seemed to have failed with
Whitman, at least in my eyes?!?!

If a composer, as determined as I, wishes to enshrine Walt Whitman in a symphonic series that ideally would never end?!?!

All he or she might need is God on their side.

So, Walt Whitman's fate in my hands remains to be seen.

I can even bear Whitman's inevitable condemnation.

Almost expect it.

That's one of the most revealing experiences within "unconditional love": shameless commitment.

Yes, Walt Whitman is very much alive for me.

Vitally alive.

More alive for me than most people I talk with.

Why?

No one knew, or even, to this day, knows the essential meanings and identities of America more profoundly than Walt Whitman!

The American Civil War he lived through taught him everything about every war that America would ever have to face.

Every war to Eternity.

Bernstein's setting of Whitman's To What You Said has a lovely introduction to a badly set Whitman poem

Plus, the repeated certainty by Bernstein and Hoiby that Whitman just must have been a baritone!!

He was more than even Kurt Weill's bouncy little cry for a great tenor!!

Whitman was a whole chorus! A great Cathedral's Choir!! Perhaps two or three of them combined!!!!

His verse out-Beethoven's Beethoven!!!!!!!!!

His Leaves of Grass matches the best of Shakespeare or Dante.

I, here in my 72-year-old dotage, am, most obviously, madly in love with Walt Whitman

Now isn't that confession more interesting than a four or five page broadside hurled, for the hundredth time, against Henry Kissinger, George Soros, Karl Marx and the most hideous fruit on their tree: The Obama Nation?!

I certainly hope so. ESR

Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at rainbowfamily2008@yahoo.com. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.

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