Menu Bar

 

Preface

A "Eugene O'Neill Songbook" appears to be a contradiction in terms.  O'Neill's name, surrounded with the darkest shades of melancholy and sorrow , is not often associated with something so light-hearted as song.  Yet it is probable that O'Neill used song to enhance the action of his plays more than any dramatist since Shakespeare.  I first became aware of this not from reading the plays but from requests that came to me from stage directors asking whether I had the music to one or another of the songs that appeared in the text.  The requests were sufficiently frequent to cause me to start collecting the music.  The total surprised me.  There are more than seventy songs or selections of music in all.  Only twenty-one plays, mostly early one-act plays, require no music.  Somebody sings or plays an instrument in thirty-one of his works, including More Stately Mansions and the scenario of Calms of Capricorn.

The totals, however, are only an indication of the theatrical and personal implications of O'Neill's use of music.  As closer examination will demonstrate, the songs are carefully embedded in the text, sometimes forming a radical element in the play's structure.  The musical line of the plays has not been a subject of critical concern, and yet, without question, like his theatrical effects with light and sound, music is an integral part of his theatre.

The songs were also an aspect of the man.  He used what he remembered.  His musical research appears to have been confined to ensuring that a song came form the period of the play's action.  The musical choices he made are therefore highly personal and tell something of his tastes and less somber amusements.  Readers interested in O'Neill's life story will recognize those that might have come from Monte Cristo Cottage where there was a piano, from school, from the sea where as a young man he could still have heard work crews singing capstan chanties, and from the saloons where he wasted some of his youth.  The songs, taken together, form a fragment of autobiography.

For whom, then, is this book intended?  It should prove useful to stage directors and to actors and of interest to those concerned with O'Neill, the man and dramatist, but I hope it will have a more general interest.  Assembled, the songs form an anthology of turn-of-the-century American song that O'Neill, like many another, remembered with affection.

Finding the songs has not been a simple task.  O'Neill sang in his head, and often named a song by words he recalled.  Thus, the song in All God's Chillun Got Wings which he calls "Till We Meet at Jesus' Feet" is in fact titled "God Be With You."  Three songs have refused to surface, one an unimportant song of which one line is sung in The Movie Man, "My bright-eyed Mexico"; one a song O'Neill knew and assumed that everyone else did, "Far Away in Canada," sung in the first scene of The Hairy Ape; and one from A Touch of the Poet, "Biddy O'Rafferty" which he mistakenly thought was to an Irish tune called "Baltiorum."  For these, especially the last, since its position in the action is vital, I have suggested some possible tunes that can be substituted.

In the music section, the plays are arrange alphabetically for easy reference.  Dates for the plays are those of the completion of the manuscript.  Songs are arranged in order of appearance within each play.  In the Index, when O'Neill refers to a song by a title different from the copyright or conventional title, this variant is cross-listed.  The captions accompanying each song contain composer and lyricist, as well as the year of the original publication.  Bracketed numbers identify the volume and page references to each song within the appropriate play, as published in the Library of America edition of The Complete Plays of Eugene O'Neill.  Photographs of Eugene O'Neill at Tao House are reproduced with the permission of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

In the process of collecting such a miscellany, I have relied heavily on the good offices of many people.  The book could not have been prepared without the substantial and enthusiastic aid of Rick Simas, whose inventive research procedures ferreted out many songs that were more than ordinarily troublesome to find.  In the matter of permissions I am grateful to Patricia C. Willis, Curator of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University and to Wayne Shirley, Chief of the Music Division of the Library of Congress and his associates, Gillian B. Anderson, Music Specialist, and Michael Petersen of the Copyright Office.  Victor Cardell and Carolyn J. Ruttenberg of the Archive of Popular Music at the University of California, Los Angeles, have provided copies of some of the popular songs.  John Roberts, Director, and Elisabeth Rebman of the Music Library at the University of California, Berkeley; Daniel Hersch, of the City and County Library, Napa, California; Richard Colvig, Jean Blinn and Clint Arndt of the Oakland Public Library, Oakland California; Tibby Storey of the San Francisco Bay Reference Center; Virginia Renner and Cathy Cherbosque of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California; Robert Schwendiger of the Maritime Humanities Center, Berkeley, California; and Judy Clarence of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, have aided me.  At various times I have received generous assistance from Ruth Alvarez, Eric Bauersfeld, Kathleen Bernath, Charlotte Cushing, Dorothy (Mrs. Saxe) Commins, Paul Echols, Elizabeth Elkus, William Engvick, Bettina Cerf Fetske, Joyce Flynn, Lynn Fontanne, David Mason Greene, Fred Orin Harris, John Kelleher, G. S. Koehler, Julie (Mrs. Macklin) Marrow, W. Michael Mather, Cecilia Pang, Josť Quintero, Leonard Ratner, James C. Roberts, Loren Van Brenk, and Sara Van See.  Lastly, I am grateful for the enthusiasm and skill of Arthur Bloom who set the music and song texts, and for the enlightened, scholarly editing by the staff of East Bay Books, who faced with equanimity the difficult tasks of design and printing.

Quotations from the work of Eugene O'Neill have been taken from the following sources and are printed with the permission of their publishers and of Random House, Inc., New York.

The Ancient Mariner in The Unknown O'Neill. Ed. Travis Bogard. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.

The Calms of Capricorn, Vol. 1, The Scenario. Transcribed by Donald Gallup. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981.

The Complete Plays of O'Neill. 3 vols. Ed. Travis Bogard. New York: The Library of America, 1988. Citations within the text are by volume and page.

Selected Letters of Eugene O'Neill. Eds. Travis Bogard and Jackson R. Bryer. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.

Work Diary. 1924-1943. Transcribed by Donald Gallup. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Library, 1981.

 

© Copyright 1999-2007 eOneill.com