The world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winner Steven Stucky’s August 4, 1964 to be performed in Dallas on September 18, 2008.
The evening-long concert drama follows events of August 4, 1964 in the LBJ whitehouse, a pivotal day that shaped the civil rights movement in America and led to the tragic escalation of the war in Vietnam.
Commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in honor of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s centennial, Stucky’s August 4, 1964 is based on an original libretto by Gene Scheer created from diaries, news reports and historical documents.
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky’s evening-long concert drama August 4, 1964, will be given its world premiere on September 18 by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, which commissioned the work to commemorate the centennial of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Stucky and his collaborator, librettist Gene Scheer, have based August 4, 1964 on the tragic events of that date 44 years ago: the discovery in Mississippi of the bodies of three recently murdered young civil rights workers and a spurious “attack” on two American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Stucky and Scheer appear in a short film, which explains the genesis of the work; the film can be viewed on YouTube at this link:
Steven Stucky's August 4, 1964
August 4, 1964 explores that day’s historic and tragic events from two perspectives: that of the mothers of two of the murdered men, and reactions from within the Oval Office. At the time in which the concert drama is set, President Johnson is unpopular for many reasons and despite some of the good work he has done; Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara is wrapped up in the United States’ growing interest in Vietnam; Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman have just lost their beloved sons in the horrifying racial war raging at home – a symbolic foreboding of the 55,000 Americans who were to die in Southeast Asia by the end of the as yet undeclared Vietnam War.
Steven Stucky was already interested in composing a work based on contemporary American history when he first received the commission from Dallas. “I was 14 years old in 1964, at the time of these events,” remembers Stucky. “I was a junior high school student in Texas when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963 and it was only a year later that the incidents in Mississippi and Vietnam occurred. I felt very close to and conflicted about these events. When Gene sent me his idea for the opening of the libretto – in which the mothers of Chaney and Goodman sing “It was the saddest moment of my life: August 4, 1964, the day they found my son’s body” – I knew not only that I could compose this piece but that I had to!”
Libretto and sources
The libretto for August 4, 1964, based on documents, diaries, and reportage of the time, inhabits the worlds of the principal characters in the politico-historic drama unfolding that day in Mississippi and Vietnam (with repercussions around America and the world): the mothers of two of the slain civil rights workers, Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman, and President Lyndon B. Johnson and his Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara. The Chorus, in the manner of an ancient Greek chorus, comments on the tragedy as it unfolds. Mrs. Chaney sings of her family’s deep roots in black Mississippi; Mrs. Goodman reads a postcard her son wrote to her the day he died. Johnson rants that “all the historians are Harvard people. It just isn’t fair … I spilled my guts getting that Civil Rights Act”; McNamara’s brief “Had We Known” scene is taken from a diary entry many years later. (“What would have happened had we known?”)
September 18, 19, 20, and 21, 2008:
August 4, 1964 (world premiere)
Composer: Steven Stucky
Librettist: Gene Scheer
Mrs. Goodman: Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano
Mrs. Chaney: Laquita Mitchell, soprano
President Lyndon B. Johnson: Robert Orth, baritone
Robert S. McNamara: Vale Rideout, tenor
Dallas Symphony Chorus
Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden, conductor
Morton H. Myerson Symphony Center