Featured Image:  LP Cover Art. Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale. Paul Bowles: A Picnic Cantata for Two Pianos (1953). ML 5068. New York: Columbia, 1955; reissued Naxos, 2011.

Featured Artists Include Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Amy Owens,
Chelsea Shephard, Naomi Louisa O’Connell, Barry Centanni,
Michael Barrett, and Steven Blier

New Release Out Friday, November 18, 2022 on NYFOS Records

A Picnic Cantata is the result of a one-time collaboration between the piano-duo team of Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, the composer Paul Bowles, and the poet James Schuyler. When the two pianists received a commission for a new vocal work from the arts patroness Alice Esty, they tapped Bowles to compose the music and Schuyler to write the libretto. Originally premiered at New York’s Town Hall in 1953, A Picnic Cantata was well-received, but never published.

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The seven-movement work balances sensuality with innocence and lightness with hints of foreboding. In its hyper-realistic world, a picnic basket seems to hold the entire contents of Zabar’s and a car materializes on cue, as four friends—two sopranos and two altos—magically gather together. Bowles’ music dips into the exotic sounds of Morocco and Ceylon, Poulenc-style post-impressionism, and pure American tunefulness to paint the journey, and Schuyler’s libretto melds the directness of Gertrude Stein with the fantasy of Maurice Sendak, allowing simple things to become paradoxical and mysterious.

Having wanted to make a studio recording of the work for over three decades, Mr. Blier said, “Paul Bowles’ A Picnic Cantata has been something of a NYFOS signature since the early 1990s. Alternatively spiky and lyrical, utterly unpredictable, and oddly graceful, Bowles’ music won me over. Coming home to Paul Bowles’ music and James Schuyler’s words has been a pleasure and something of a revelation. In the 25 years since we first encountered A Picnic Cantata, we’ve learned more about both the composer and the poet. Its colors seem more vibrant than ever.”

1953 Liner Notes from the original LP:
Bowles and Schuyler’s performance piece A Picnic Cantata: for Four Women’s Voices, Two Pianos, and Percussion (1954) is delightfully silly. It’s about a happy picnic that is intentionally nonsensical. The music by Bowles’ and the libretto by Schuyler capture the superficiality and simplicity of picnics without deep meaning. If there is a plot, it concerns a picnic at Hat Hill Park, but whether it is accurate or imagined is unknown and of no consequence. The narrative follows the usual picnic scenario: a visit from friends who propose a Sunday drive and picnic; planning the picnic; the drive to Hat Hill park; reading of the Sunday paper horoscope, advice column, and garden section; and at last packing up and returning home.

Bowles and Schuyler gleefully attack the picnicking tradition, taking their cue from Gertrude Stein and Absurdism. They depict motoring to the country as a playful series of discontinuities, ambiguities, alliterations, and repetitions meant to be picnicky and quirky. –Walter Levy

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