• 4(pic)3(ca)4(2bcl)4(cbn)/4.4.2+btbn.1/timp.3perc+dmkit/hp/str
  • Mezzo Soprano
  • 35 min

Programme Note

Mezzo-soprano in movement II.

February 7, 2009
La Jolla Symphony Orchestra
Steven Schick, conductor
La Jolla, CA

Composer note:
The Amistad Symphony was originally commissioned as separate pieces but they were always conceived as working together. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra commissioned the first movement, Esu Variations, for the Cultural Olympiad that followed the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. The piece evokes the many guises of the Yoruba Trickster God, Esu, who meditates between the Gods and man. Esu is the God of the Crossroads and he exists in the New World with many names: from Exu in Brazil to Ellugua or Legba in Cuba or in the Santeria practices of the Dominican Republic. In the United States he exists as the monkey in the tree signifying to the lion. The trickster is symbolic of our survival through slavery with the art of signification representing how the oppressed speak to power. Esu Variations is dedicated to the scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In the opera Amistad, the Trickster God, Esu, instigates the revolt on the ship. The music from the rebellion in the opera passes through both the first and the third movements of the symphony. The Overture to the opera is derived from the orchestra work, Esu Variations.

"The Goddess of the Waters" is derived from Act II, scene 7 of the opera Amistad, which debuted at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1997. The Goddess, Yemaya, bears witness to the atrocities of the Middle Passage. The Goddess receives the bodies of the slaves thrown overboard en route to America. She is the counterbalance to the Trickster God, Esu. Her moral outrage is the final argument for freeing the Mende captives in the trial.

Tales (Tails) of the Signifying Monkey, the third movement, premiered and commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, in 1998, captures the playful and comic side of Esu. The Trickster God dances as he sets the captives free. The Trickster is a master of rhythm who moves effortlessly between grooves and drama. He mediates musical worlds, the improvisational and the composed. His music is mercurial as he adapts and negotiates the playful and the dramatic and dances among traditions and genres.

— Anthony Davis


Movement I: Esu Variations
Movement II: Amistad Act II, Scene 7
Movement III: Tales (Tails) of the Signifying Monkey