ulysses
Musical Authors. Lawrence Durrell had an affinity for music and was a jazz pianist, but as a composer the one musical project that (at least half) saw the light of day was a projected musical comedy, Ulysses Come Back. The first reference to this comes in May 1968 in a letter from Durrell to Henry Miller. “I have three smashing songs for a musical about Ulysses”, he wrote, “which I’m writing from sheer boredom”. By September 1969 he is telling Miller “I have half written my musical and at last found a musician eager to collaborate on it; who knows, we might get it on! It would make me laugh….I regretted that he [Wallace Southam?] couldn’t raise interest in my Ulysses libretto. However tomorrow we’ll see what Antony Hopkins makes of it.”

Southam – an amateur composer and a friend of Durrell in pre-war Athens – traveled to the South of France to meet Durrell in Sommieres during early 1970 and spent a week notating the songs Durrell had completed for the proposed musical. Shortly afterwards Durrell came to London to make the recording, which was produced by Southam. On the first side there is a sketch of the musical, narrated by Durrell, on the other some additional songs, with Larry himself singing the recitative, Belle Gonzalez taking the female parts, Pat Smythe on piano and Jeff Clyne on bass. The recording was issued by Bernard Stone’s Turret Records, but only 99 copies were made, and so extant copies sell only for large amounts of money. I haven’t heard it.

The piece was intended to be humorous, with Durrell apparently wryly sympathetic with Ulysses’ trouble with women. “I think it’s funny and good in parts” he told Henry Miller, and sent him a copy. Miller replied in October 1970. “I began laughing when I heard your opening. Somehow you reminded me of good old Noel Coward., whom I used to put down, but whom I have come to admire, even adore after seeing him on TV several times in long interviews. It’s a jolly good attempt, this sketch, as you call it. Must have been fun to do.” This disk is a curiosity, and the material on it probably isn’t substantial enough to work into a performable piece. But it sheds a different light on Durrell, and provides us with a little more detail on the elusive Wallace Southam, of whom I will return to at least once more in the future.

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