Revisioning a Masterpiece: Jon Magnussen’s “Psalm”

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In 2001, composer Jon Magnussen met the unusual challenge of unifying his new score for Psalm, an already-existing dance work from 1967, with the original artistic conceit of the choreographer, José Limón, who died in 1972. Limón was inspired directly by his reading of André Schwartz-Bart’s Holocaust novel, The Last of the Just, and had initially desired to use Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms as the score for the dance. Faced with cost-preclusive licensing fees for the Stravinksy, Limón engaged Eugene Lester to compose a score for Psalm. The Lester score, now lost, served the work for only a brief time, ... continued below

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Burnett, Jason August 2013.

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  • Burnett, Jason

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In 2001, composer Jon Magnussen met the unusual challenge of unifying his new score for Psalm, an already-existing dance work from 1967, with the original artistic conceit of the choreographer, José Limón, who died in 1972. Limón was inspired directly by his reading of André Schwartz-Bart’s Holocaust novel, The Last of the Just, and had initially desired to use Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms as the score for the dance. Faced with cost-preclusive licensing fees for the Stravinksy, Limón engaged Eugene Lester to compose a score for Psalm. The Lester score, now lost, served the work for only a brief time, when the piece fell out of the repertory. When approached to create a new score for the extant dance work, Magnussen chose to draw his own influence from three works: the dance itself, Schwartz-Bart’s novel, and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. In addition, Limón Company Artistic Director Carla Maxwell served as Magnussen’s collaborator in reworking Psalm to resemble the work she believed Limón had desired all along. Magnussen’s influence from Stravinsky and Schwartz-Bart are revealed in the choices of text, the scored forces, and melodic ideas generated by the composer by mapping the names of significant Holocaust sites onto scalar patterns. Limón’s memoir, personal articles, and sketches of artistic ideas along with personal interviews with Magnussen and Maxwell will inform my research. These sources easily establish Magnussen as a significant composer, and Psalm as a significant work of art; its value is reflected in the careful confluence of the artistic contributions of three significant artists, Limón, Schwartz-Bart, and Magnussen.

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  • August 2013

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  • March 8, 2015, 5:44 p.m.

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  • Nov. 15, 2016, 10:08 p.m.

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Burnett, Jason. Revisioning a Masterpiece: Jon Magnussen’s “Psalm”, dissertation, August 2013; Denton, Texas. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc500109/: accessed June 26, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; .