Margaret Fisher









Ezra Pound's Radio Operas. The BBC Experiments, 1931-33. Cambridge Mass:, MIT Press, 2003.

This fascinating, meticulously documented study of Pound’s two unpublished radio operas, The Testament of François Villon and Cavalcanti, casts a remarkably wide net. It chronicles Pound’s relation to the new medium of radio from his Futurist and Vorticist experiments to the moment of his notorious Rome broadcasts, all the while considering the larger relationship between avant-garde intermedia and the new technologies.

(Marjorie Perloff, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Stanford University)

Ezra Pound's radio operas




EZRA POUND'S RADIO OPERAS. The BBC Experiments. Cambridge Mass: MIT Press, 2003.





Acknowledgments viii

Credits   xii

Introduction 2

1. A Dramatic Filter 8

2. Radio 40

3. Broadcast of a Melodrama 84

4. Dramedy  142

5. Minister of Kulchur in Utopia 196

Postscript Archie Harding, 1936-1953 202

Appendix: BBC Script for The Testament of Francois Villon 204

Notes 222

References 296

Index 306







Ezra Pound, best known for his Cantos, referred to himself as a "poet and composer" in the 1929 edition of Who's Who. His two BBC radio operas have been obscured by the polemics of his Italian radio broadcasts and his indictment by the United States government for treason during World War II. In this study of Pound's radio operas of the 1930s, Margaret Fisher draws on the unpublished correspondence between Pound and his maverick BBC producer, Edward Archibald Fraser Harding, to reveal a little-known aspect of Pound's career. "Archie" Harding, an advocate of mass microphone access in Britain and the first to produce a global radio linkup, tutored Pound in radio's theoretical and political potential, as well as in specific radio techniques.

Pound's first radio opera, transmitted in October 1931 under the title The Testament of François Villon, was one of the first electronically enhanced operas to be broadcast in Europe. At Harding's request, Pound wrote a second radio opera, Cavalcanti. Although the opera was thought to be unfinished and lost at the time of Pound's death, in 1983 the American composer and conductor Robert Hughes located the various manuscripts and assembled a complete work.

Fisher examines Pound's reasons for composing and his theatrical models. She discusses the sound design of the 1931 production, as well as the context in which Pound wrote his radio operas--artistic trends in film and radio, various broadcasting organizations and facilities, and contemporary radio techniques. She also compares Pound's radio experiments to those of F. T. Marinetti, Walter Ruttman, and Bertolt Brecht. The book, which contains the 1931 radio script and producer's notes, provides the necessary background and analysis to facilitate a recreation of the 1931 broadcast, a contemporary stage performance, or a film or video production.


Margaret Fisher, Ph.D., is author of Ezra Pound’s Radio Operas: The BBC Experiments, 1931–1933 (MIT Press, 2002), a dramatic analysis of the operas as prepared specifically for radio. The book contains the original BBC script for the 1931 broadcast of Le Testament. Fisher introduces Pound’s music to a general audience with an extensive essay written for the companion booklet to the audio CD, Ego Scriptor Cantilenae, produced by Other Minds San Francisco. She and Robert Hughes are editors of The Music of Ezra Pound, a five-part series that includes performance editions of Pound’s musical oeuvre. Her study of Pound’s unfinished third opera, Collis O Heliconii, includes a perfor­mance edition of excerpts reconstituted from drafts of the work’s two principal numbers (Second Evening Art, 2004). In 2013 she published two e-books, The Echo of Villon in Ezra Pound’s Music and Poetry and The Transparency of Ezra Pound’s Great Bass.

A Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, Fisher has lectured and written on Italian radio and Futurist radio from 1924 to 1945. She translated Pino Masnata’s unpublished gloss on Futurist radio, Radia: A Gloss of the 1933 Futurist Radio Manifesto. As a dancer, chore­ographer and director, Fisher received a Fulbright-Hays research award to Italy, and numerous fel­lowships from the NEA, the Japan–US Friendship Commission and the California Arts Council. She has taught for the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, at the University of California, Berkeley, where she re­ceived her doctoral degree. She is currently editing the journals of the American painter, Sandra Fisher Kitaj. 


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