Harp Music Performance Poetry
“I didn’t expect the sort of frank beauty that you ﬁnd in these archives, this sort of unabashed emotional outpouring in some of these letters”—composer Joseph Hallman
How do you turn documents into music? As part of The Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA), the Rosenbach commissioned Composer-in-Residence Joseph Hallman to create a musical piece based on the life of controversial writer and socialite Mercedes de Acosta. Hallman’s response was Raving Beauty, a song cycle exploring Acosta’s relationships with the women in her life, including actress Greta Garbo, dancer Isadora Duncan, and Acosta’s sister, the fashion icon Rita Lydig. The Rosenbach’s Mercedes de Acosta collection, includes letters, photographs, and ephemera relating to cinema and lesbian history. A famed poet, playwright and socialite, Acosta was a prominent ﬁgure in early 20th century gay society, known for her numerous affairs with Hollywood’s elite.
A companion exhibition in the Drawing Room gallery provided a behind-the-music look at some of the objects which inpired Hallman, combined with commentary drawn from a series of interviews with the composer. From Rita Lydig’s designer Yantorny shoes to a sensual poem by Isadora Duncan to a birthday card from the Stravinskys, visitors encountered the Acosta material for themselves and drew their own inspiration.
The Libreto was written by Poet, Jessica Hornik.
Raving Beauty: A Song Cycle
- The Unrequited Lover’s Lament
- The Sisters (hear a recording of this piece below)
- Rushing through the garden
This commission is made possible by a grant from the Dolﬁnger-McMahon Foundation.
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