Vivian Fine





The Great Wall of China




14 minutes


Soprano, flute, violin, cello, and piano


Franz Kakfa


May 1948, Macmillan Theater, New York City, Alice Ditson Fund Concert, Shirlee Emmons, soprano, Ralph Freundlich, flute, Claus Adams, cello, and Alvin Bauman, piano


New Music, New York, ©1948


Available on demo CD

program notes

“The Great Wall of China…is an impressive composition in which Fine shed any attempt to write tonally. This is Vivian Fine at her best, free to write what she hears. The inspiration for the song came while reading Franz Kafka’s The Great Wall of China. Fine selected passages that attracted her interest and divided the song into four untitled movements….The Great Wall of China is experimental and forward looking in the way she involved the ensemble in portraying the text. Only the third movement uses the full ensemble; Fine never feels compelled to have everyone playing all of the time. The soprano’s text is syllabic and declamatory but set in the twisting modernistic line of her earlier music. At times she narrates with a spoken line but never is the text distorted….Fine does not use sprechstimme or any extended vocal techniques. Rather it is the total texture that conveys meaning.

–Heidi Von Gunden, The Music of Vivian Fine, Scarecrow Press, 1999


“…Moments of high drama…coexist alongside subtle poetic development.”

–Marion Jacobson, Washington Post

“One listens, one laughs at this singular alliance of voice and instruments. But one listens, intrigued. The music becomes more violent. There are bangings on the piano like a gong, sounds like the orchestra of a Chinese theatre and all sorts of queer figurations, as the voice continues….We think that [Satre]…would have enjoyed these existential strains.”

–Olin Downs, The New York Times