Dead Elvis for solo bassoon and chamber ensemble | Michael Daugherty, composer

Dead Elvis
for solo bassoon and chamber ensemble (1993)

Instrumentation: Solo bassoon, Eb clarinet, trumpet in C, bass trombone, percussion (1 player: large brake drum, large and small bongo, large cowbell, crotales, large ride cymbal), violin, double bass

World Premiere: July 1993 / Grand Teton Festival, Wyoming / Chuck Ullery, bassoon / Grand Tetons Chamber Players / Michael Daugherty

Peermusic Classical, BMI (Americas and Asia)
Faber Music (Europe, Australia and New Zealand)

Duration: 9 minutes

Program Note:

Dead Elvis (1993) was commissioned by Boston Musica Viva and Chuck Ullery, principal bassoonist with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. It is more than a coincidence that it is scored for the same instrumentation as Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat (1918) in which a soldier sells his violin and his soul to the devil for a magic book. In Dead Elvis, the bassoon is Elvis (or perhaps an Elvis impersonator). Does this rock star sell out his Southern folk authenticity to the sophisticated professionalism of Hollywood movies, Colonel Parker and Las Vegas in order to attain great wealth and fame? Dead Elvis goes far beyond this romantic Faustian scenario. For me, the two clashing Elvis images (the hip, beautiful, genius, thin, rock-and-roll Elvis versus the vulgar, cheesy, fat, stoned, Las Vegas Elvis) serve as a sturm und drang compositional algorithm. Further, my use of the “dies irae” (a medieval Latin chant for the Day of Judgment) as the principal musical theme of Dead Elvis signifies yet another aspect of the Elvis myth: some people believe Elvis is dead, while others believe he is alive and well in Kalamazoo. Perhaps the question is not whether Elvis is alive or dead, but why the phenomenon of Elvis endures beyond the grave of Graceland. Elvis, for better or worse, is part of American culture, history and mythology. If you want to understand America and all its riddles, sooner or later you will have to deal with (Dead) Elvis.

–Michael Daugherty