Serene and noisy, somber and mysterious, the organ work A Quaker Reader is an attempt by Ned Rorem to link his Quaker religion and his vocation (composition). As evidenced in his many published diaries, he was greatly influenced by his Quaker upbringing, be it through his pacifism, reflection, or truth-seeking. This piece does not offer the joy or redemption of say, Bach's Lutheranism, but is substantial nonetheless.
Rorem in the liner notes:
But if there exists no Quaker music, there can be music by a Quaker. And if my religion means silence while my craft means sound, that craft (that sound) has always very consciously been devoted to banishing the noise which forms an ever vaster cloud between humdrum and mystical realities.
Speaking of his diaries, what I remember most:
- the high-class fun and friendships he had in Paris in early adulthood
- his antipathy towards Elliott Carter
- his dislike of classical recordings played as background music during dinner parties
- the contrasts between his life in Manhattan and on Nantucket Island
- his entries over time (and books) that chronicled the progress of the AIDS epidemic; first reports of a gay pneumonia, the progression of medical knowledge about GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) which in turn led to what we now know as AIDS, and finally the death of his long-time partner in the 1990s from same)
Update: Allan Kozinn reviews the recent organ recitals by Gregory D'Agostino of Rorem's complete organ music. Kozinn describes how in some cases, Rorem's titles shape the listener's expectations but in other cases:
Just as often, though, Mr. Rorem puckishly frustrates those expectations. "The World of Silence," "One Sigh Rightly Begotten" and "Ocean of Light," all in "A Quaker Reader," are robust and at times ferocious movements.