Matthew Owens is widely known as a writer as well as composer, performer, and artist. In addition to his having written The Pope of Fools and The Garden, he is often invited to write essays, poetry, or speeches for various occasions. The following are some excerpts from his various works.
THE POPE OF FOOLSA chamber-opera based on Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame. A setting of nine original poems by Matthew Owens, in which Quasimodo tells his own story, of one, unlovable, redeemed by loving.
Victor Hugo's tale, "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame," familiar to all, is based on an even more familiar archetype"Beauty and the Beast." Hugo enriches the story with Shakespearean complexity of plot, and multiplicity of themes, and casts over it the dark tones of Greek fatalism. Fond of striking juxtapositions, he creates a tragedy in which nobody gets what he wants, but the high are made low, and the low find redemption. To accomplish this, he constructs a "love triangle:" Quasimodo"monster," foundling. The soul of the Cathedral, grown deaf ringing its bells, yet without place in the world; Frollo, the Archdeacon, guardian ("father") of Quasimodo, priest, alchemist; and Esmeralda, the exotic beauty. Esmeralda loves neither priest nor "bell-ringer," but the "Monster" is elevated by his encounter with her, while the priest is reduced by his desire to possess, which becomes a monster within him.
Hugo's original title was "Notre-Dame de Paris," and indeed the Cathedral is itself a character in the drama, embracing, in Gothic style, both the grotesque and the beautiful, so that, in the end, when the "stage" is strewn with bodies, and shattered illusions, there is radiance, like the light through a stained-glass windowthe transcendence that is the purpose of tragedy.
Finally, this is the story of one, unlovable, redeemed by loving.
My song-cycle, "The Pope of Fools," is based on the Hugo novel, but its purpose is not to retell the story; rather, it is to express the spiritual evolvement of its central character, the hunchback, Quasimodo, To that end, I have selected for structure certain elements of the original plot and written a text that would enable Quasimodo to tell his own story.
One departure from the song-cycle format is the adding of violin and 'cello to the voice/piano setting. Not only does this allow me to suggest the weight and complexity of the story, but it lends itself to creating descriptive effects such as the sounds of wind, rain, birds, and even the sustained falling glissando signifying the death of Frollo. Equally important are the bell sounds fom the piano, an emotional commentary throughout.
ye, to the Pope of Fools.
Clown is your good shepherd now.
IX. QUAZIMODO'S FINAL VISION
faithful silences of stone,
© Matthew Owens, 1995
"ERNST BACON: AN END OF CENTURY PERSPECTIVE"
Matthew was engaged to write this essay for the Ernst Bacon Society. In its pages he explores the nature and significance of one of the twentieth century's most towering composers. Mr. Owens was a close friend, editor, and performer of Ernst Bacon's works for 'cello.(Excerpts)
"Bacon insisted on the primacy of melody at a time when fragmentation was the rule among all the arts. He once said about recent music, 'No one knows how to draw any more!' His sense of the elegant and expressive melodic shape is just as much a part of his instrumental as his vocal writing. The performer of a sonata, or trio has the satisfaction of spinning-out melodies grand and impassionedtender and reflectiveor the deeply personal, sometimes tragic lines of Bacon's own nature. His rhythms are the 'rough-hewn,' jazzy, exuberant, forward energies of America. His counterpoint underscores this energy. In a sense, it populates his scores, as his poets populate his songs and is always intelligent and vital. His instrumental music is filled with a physical sense of placeof geographynot only because many pieces are named after mountains, or plains, or rivers, but because one can feel in them the outsized monumentality of the American landscape. Both player, and listener are drawn into this landscapein reverie and awe.
"Bacon was passionately devoted to the ongoing development of American culturein this sense his mission is comparable to that of Kodaly, or Bartok, in Hungaryand yet no one would agree more that American is always the 'new world'always incorporating, recombining, originating. As we enter a new era, it is clear that our culturewhatever it isis profoundly affected by an enormous variety of non-European influences. There are so many new voices in the air that we are near to a chaos of cultural resources. Who knows how or when there will be another great moment of synthesis and the birth of a new tradition? The music of Ernst Bacon, if it is invited into the mix, will offer an example of the art of synthesis. But finally, none of this provides the guiding reason for a definitive publishing effort on Bacon's behalf. It is beauty that makes the argument. Knowing of this beauty, one cannot let it be buried. Such an effort, to bring this song to the ear of the future, is on behalf of us all."
©Matthew Owens, April 24, 1993
ELLEN BACON, PRESIDENT OF THE ERNST BACON SOCIETY
The Garden is a comedy, set in the Garden of Eden and ending in the Apocalypse. It was originally performed in Berkeley by students of The Academy, Berkeley.
Peacock, in the garden stands,
Matthew Owens, 1987
the world was still quite young,
the hat for dinosaurs,
by this footprint, here,
its been said, they sold,
thawing out of what's behind,
he's considered interesting,
© Matthew Owens, 1987
SUNDAY ON THE HILL WITH MARGARETA Trip to the 'Cello Cathedral"
Written for the nintieth birthday gala for the renowned pedagogue, Margaret Rowell, held at the San Francisco Concervatory of Music. Matthew Owens was invited to be master of ceremonies. This two-page humorous verse is full of references familiar to students and friends of the beloved teacher.
didn't go to workshops,
High Priestess who greeted us,
your 'cellos out, she'd cry,
rubber snakes, on finger-boards
© Matthew Owens, 1991
FOR MY FRIEND, ON THE PASSING OF HIS FATHER
A poem written for a dear friend. Later, this poem won a Golden Poet award.
crowded streets, coming and going
had been the summer sky,
we wakened the slumbering petals,
© Matthew Owens, 1989
THE WEDDING ADDRESS
What began as an invitation to speak at his brother's wedding became a fresh look at the traditional sacraments of marriage. Its insights, humor and wisdom caused such interest among those attending the event that it was printed, and is now in wide circulation.
We all know that Cupids arrow is just the beginning. But when we say "we are in love," what does that mean? At first, it seems that we are two human personalitiesanimated by zeal and preference; but, as we move closer to love itself, we begin to sense that to be "in love" means to have met with the miracle of being inside lovetogetheras Divine being. Generally, the Invocation is the calling upon Spirit to do its jobto bless this union and all gathered here. But these who stand together inside the miracle of love hold inside them the ecstatic realization that spirit blesses without our calling it forth! Maybe that is why we find lovers so attractiveand all we can do, really, is to call upon ourselves, individually, and together, to open to this blessing, and to accept that all of nature, all of humanity, is Divine.
Cultivate your inner voices. Support each others solitude. Then listen together. A lot happens when we are not looking. Struggling through the forest the best we can, by and by we come to a stillness. Everything is different. This is souls landscapeour own quiet communion; the columns of light through the trees point to their infinite source. You see each other as if for the first time. It is thrilling. It is awesome. The unpredictable majesty of mutual beings threatens the makeshift boundaries we call ourselves!
© Matthew Owens, 1997
Howie Clark is a beloved Berkeley figure. He is known for his enormous humor, intelligence, warmth, whimsy, endless variety of interests, and magical abilities with animals. He was also one of the first importers of Chinese goods after the opening of China. His fiftieth and sixtieth birthdays were famous occasions in Berkeley, and included readings of these two poems by Matthew Owens plus musical guests, also including Mr. Owens.
A POEM OF HOWIE
IIIHis ClothesSong of Claw-Ha*
*Claw-Ha is a nick-name for Howie
© Matthew Owens, 1982
HOWIE ON MY MIND
(for his sixtieth birthday at Enrico's, San Francisco, July 1992)
we traversed the evening streets
© Matthew Owens, 1992
For fifteen years Matthew Owens taught philosophy at The Academy, Berkeley. His gift to each graduating class was a humorous poem for each student, which he read aloud at commencement. The presentation became a Berkeley legend, often drawing people who attended primarily to hear the reading of the poems. (All fifteen years of commencement poetry soon to be compiled and available.)
THE JUSTINE LEWIS AWARD FOR DEFYING GRAVITY
people occupy actual spaces
occupies no factual space at all
nights the only lights her face
*O-Zone is the popular name from Mr. Owens' classroom.
© Matthew Owens, 2004