Sunday, January 17, 2021

John Malveaux: Music researcher and professor Dr. Michael Cooper shared a paper about Margaret Bonds' composition NO MAN HAS SEEN HIS FACE

Dr. Michael Cooper

John Malveaux of writes:

Music researcher and professor Dr. Michael Cooper shared a paper about Margaret Bonds' composition



About the Composer

Margaret Allison Bonds (1913-72) stands as one of the more remarkable composers in twentieth-century music – woman or man, Black or White. [1]  Her mother was a musician who studied at Chicago Musical College; her father, a doctor who also authored one of the first published books for Black children and the lexicon Noted Negro Women: Their Triumphs and Activities (Jackson, Tennessee, 1893). She grew up in a home that, while on the segregated Black south side of Chicago, was relatively affluent and a cultural mecca for musicians and other artists of color. By the age of eight she had been taking piano lessons for several years and written her first composition, and by the time she entered Northwestern University in 1929 she had studied piano and perhaps composition with Theodore Taylor of the Coleridge-Taylor Music School, as well as Florence Price. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Northwestern University, where she had to study in the basement of the library because of her race. She earned a reputation for her social-justice activities on behalf of African Americans, and her later interviews also emphasize the deeply sexist nature of her world. In a 1964 interview with The Washington Post, she proclaimed: “I am a musician and a humanitarian. . . . People don’t really think a woman can compete in this field [of concert music]. . . . Women are expected to be wives, mothers and do all the nasty things in the community (Oh, I do them), and if a woman is cursed with talent, too, then she keeps apologizing for it.”[2]  By 1967 her renown was so great that Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley proclaimed January 31 of that year as the city’s official Margaret Bonds Day. Having traveled between New York City and  Los Angeles for many years for her career, she decided to relocate to Los Angeles after the death of her longtime friend and collaborator Langston Hughes in 1967. She remained based there, composing, collaborating, and concertizing, until her death in 1972.


About the Work

No Man Has Seen His Face is one of two short sacred choruses and two sacred songs on the same texts that Bonds composed in March, 1968. The words were written by Janice Lovoos (1903 – 2007), herself a multifaceted artist, critic, and librettist, and a frequent collaborator of Bonds. The autograph for the choral version of No Man Has Seen His Face is dated March 21, 1968, and on that same day Bonds also wrote two versions of the work for solo voice with piano (high key and medium key).[3] Like Touch the Hem of His Garment [...], this work reflects Bonds’s lifelong involvement with church singers and church choirs, offering high-quality music that does not exceed the technical abilities of proficient amateurs. It is also a consciously simple profession of abiding faith – an admonition and reminder that God’s presence is everywhere, and that because believers see that presence they must never doubt His existence or, more importantly, His love. Bonds’s music is largely diatonic, with plentiful major-seventh chords that reflect the influence of popular song of the 1960s. Its unaffected style cohabitates with other features that subtly bespeak her talents in the concert-music traditions – for example, the treatment of the end of the B section as an intensification of throbbing repeated chords that resolves with the return to the tonic in m. 31, and the return of this heightened emotion at the mention of divine mercy freely given (mm. 40ff). This combination of musical quality with technical accessibility explains the respect Bonds commanded in the musical world – despite her sex and her race –from the late 1930s until her death.


About the Edition

This edition generally presents Bonds’s music as she wrote it, differentiating between authorial and editorial information. Editorial slurs are perforated, and editorial dynamics, expressive markings, and tempos are presented in Roman font with brackets. Editorial extensions of dynamic and expressive markings are perforated and hooked at each end.

Four sources for No Man Has Seen His Face survive, all in the James Weldon Johnson Collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University (shelfmark JWJ MSS 151 Box 7, folder 36):[4]

AS 1: Autograph full score, 7 pp., headed “NO MAN HAS SEEN HIS FACE / SATB with piano accompaniment / and Sop[rano] or Tenor Solo / Words by Janice Lovoos [space] Music by Margaret Bonds.” At the end it bears the autograph inscription “March 21, 1968 / Home of Thor and Janice Lovoos / Hollywood, Cal.” This manuscript includes autograph pencil cues to pages 3-14 of another manuscript – suggesting, since AS 1 is only seven pages long, that there is also another manuscript (now lost) of the work that is either scored for larger ensemble or written on paper of a different format – both situations that would require more paper for the same music. AS 1 also contains autograph pencil corrections that are not incorporated into the other manuscripts, suggesting that it postdates them.

CS 1: Transfer-paper copy of autograph full score, 7 pp. Although this manuscript concurs with AS 1 in most regards, it includes some subtle variants (noted in the Critical Notes below).

CS 2: Version for high voice and piano, 4 pp.[5]

CS 3: Version for medium voice and piano, 4 pp., transposed to E-flat major.[6]

Critical Notes: This edition takes source AS 1 as its copy-text. The tempo and style designation “Andantino – cantabile” is lacking in both AS 1 and CS 1 and is adopted here from CS 2 and CS 3. Notes: Mm. 30-31, S/T solo:  b1 in CS1, CS 2, and CS 3, originally b1 in AS1, but crossed out and changed to d2 in pencil; m. 39, beat 4, T, B, Pf: f lacking in CS 1; m. 40 Pf: LH slur lacking in CS 1; 43-44 , A, T, B: slur lacking in CS 1 in 43, but completion included after the system break to m. 44.


First and foremost, I thank the family of Margaret Bonds for their permission to publish these materials. Thanks are also due to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University for granting access to the autographs used for this edition. I also thank Elinor Armsby and Nancy Hale at Hildegard Publishing Company for their interest in this project and for shepherding it through the publishing process. Finally, I thank my family for their patience and support unending.

– Michael Cooper

            [1] There is still no book-length biography of Bonds. By far the best study currently available is Helen Walker-Hill’s chapter in her From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and Their Music (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007), pp. 140-88.

[2] Christina Demaitre, “She Has a Musical Mission: Developing Racial Harmony; Heritage Motivates Composing Career,” The Washington Post 87, no. 253 (14 August 1964).

[3] See Margaret Bonds: Three Sacred Songs, ed. John Michael Cooper (Bryn Mawr: Hildegard Publishing, 2021). 

[4] This folder also includes Touch the Hem of His Garment in versions for chorus and piano and solo voice with piano, as well as autograph scores for three other works: Will There Be Enough?, Go Back to Leanna, and the “novelty song” The Animal Rock ’n’ Roll.

[5] A copy of this manuscript from the collection of Charlotte Holloman is in the possession of Dr. Louise Toppin and will soon be published by Videmus Editions (Ann Arbor, Michigan).

[6] The solo versions are published in Margaret Bonds: Three Sacred Songs, ed. John Michael Cooper (Bryn Mawr: Hildegard Publishing, 2021).  

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