Circular 14: The Apotheosis of Aristides | An Oratorio

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  • Circular 14 contains music of great variety and often of unearthly transcendence…. One can compare it to the great masterpieces in this form by Handel (Messiah), Bach (The St. Matthew Passion) and Mendelssohn (Elijah), and in the 20th century Sergei Prokofiev (Alexander Nevsky), Michael Tippett (A Child of Our Time) and William Walton (Beshazzar’s Feast).” — Eric Gordon, People’s World

About the composer

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 also 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.’

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. 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.

Part I

Part II

A dramatic oratorio in twenty tableaux. Words and music by Neely Bruce. Narrated by Michel Gill in the role of César. Produced by Marilyn Ziering. Featuring Robert MacNeil as Aristides, Ashley Faatoalia as Salazar, Marina Harris as Angelina, Stephan Kirchgraber as Rabbi Kruger, Katherine Giaquinto as Andrée, Jonathan Frias as Pedro Nuno, Ariel Pistorino as Isabel, and Scott Levin as José António. With The Donald Brinegar Singers. Cameron O’Connor, Spanish and electric guitars, Pedro da Silva, Portuguese guitar, John Krovoza, cello, and the composer at the piano. Conducted by Donald Brinegar. Live performance held at The Gindi Auditorium, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, CA, January 24, 2016. Sound recording and mixing by Studio City Sound and videography by Carole Kim.