by John Pitcher
Linton, a composition professor at Middle Tennessee State University, has set to music the original poetry and translations of contemporary Italian-American author Cody Franchetti. He’s also composed music to selected verse of the ancient Roman poet Catullus. Both works will present extreme technical challenges to the musicians. But the 17 songs of Catullus, which Linton has titled Carmina Catulli, will test the sensibilities of the audience as well.
That’s because Gaius Valerius Catullus, a contemporary of Julius Caesar, wrote some of the most daring, psychologically probing and sexually explicit poetry in the history of Western literature. In one of his most infamous poems, “Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,” Catullus mercilessly ridicules his critics with some of the nastiest language ever found in a poetry book.
The poems he wrote about his lover, a sex-crazed Patrician named Clodia Metelli (referred to in the verse as “Lesbia”), are full of fiery passion. All of the Catullus songs will be sung in Latin, which, as Father Mulcahy of the sitcom M*A*S*H once noted, makes even the most lewd confessions seem somehow noble.
Linton’s music is lyrical, original and extraordinarily virtuosic. French baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer, who will premiere the work, must sing melodies that range over two octaves. He must also produce seemingly every vocal color — from dark chocolate chest notes to a vaporous falsetto. Pianist Jason Paul Peterson, for his part, must navigate the entire four-foot range of his Steinway grand’s keyboard.
Tenor H. Stephen Smith, another MTSU music professor, will premiere Linton’s Seven Franchetti Songs. Pianist David See will accompany. Franchetti’s contemporary poems are less risqué than those of Catullus. Nevertheless, the cycle opens with an ode “To a Stark-Eyed Slut,” and it also includes a delightfully original diatribe about the spring season, “when serpents raise their heads: men lower them.” The Franchetti songs will be sung in English.
Linton plans to release recordings of these song cycles on his own label, Refinersfire, in the late spring or early summer. Tipper Gore, who’s had a thing or two to say about lewd lyrics, reportedly can’t wait.
Watch a preview of the performance here.