ABOUT THE PROJECT
Neely Bruce is the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music at Wesleyan University. He is the composer of over 800 works, including operas, oratorios and other choral music, orchestral works, solo songs, seven documentary scores for public television, and some 14 hours of solo piano music. His most recent major work is a dramatic oratorio entitled Circular 14: The Apotheosis of Aristides.
ARTIST STATEMENT BY NEELY BRUCE
Late in the fall of 2010 I began a serious investigation of the life and accomplishment of Aristides de Sousa Mendes. The goal of my research was the composition of a dramatic oratorio, an opera of the mind, so to speak, for which I would write the text. In the intervening five years I read everything about him I could put my hands on, and traveled to sites related to his career in France and Portugal. Over and over, in my mind I returned not only to Aristides’s singular accomplishment, but also to Circular 14 — the brutally restrictive document issued by the dictator Salazar that basically meant ‘No visas to Portugal.’ I finished the libretto, then revised it, then set it to music. I have yet to finish the orchestration, but the notes-on-paper part of it is done. The complete work, with reduced instrumental forces (piano, Portuguese guitar, Spanish guitar and cello) will receive its premiere in Los Angeles on January 24, 2016. Like most of my large works, it is eclectic in the extreme, incorporating elements of free chromaticism, pandiatonicism, polytonality, spatial effects for two choruses, and evocations of Portuguese folk music. There is even some faux Beethoven, which I imagine performed by Aristides’s daughter Clotilde.
After a talk I gave about the work-in-progress in 2013, the audience and I had a brainstorming session about the title. Circular 14 was the result. The Apotheosis of Aristides came in second. I like the conjunction of the title and the subtitle. The ominous and bureaucratic yields to the divine. While writing this piece, Aristides de Sousa Mendes has become far more to me than the subject of this work. He has become my buddy — in a real sense my companion-in-arms. For these last five years he has also been my teacher. He has taught me that one person makes a big difference; that genuine courage can still be found; that you can do the right thing for the right reason; that you can suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with grace and humility; and that the petty dictators of this world do not have the last word. He was a truly great man, and his story needs to be shouted from the rooftops.