Dennis Báthory-Kitsz is not your average composer. For one, he is, what he calls, a non-pop, or classical music composer. The average person, he says, knows Mozart or Beethoven, but not many listen to contemporary classical music.
For those composers, then, like Dennis, who want to write a piece of music in protest of contemporary politics, there are few options. “What can you do as a composer who wants to make a political statement in a realm that might make sense to an average classical listening audience?”
“I started collecting these outrageous statements [spoken or tweeted by contemporary politicians] and I had a huge, huge file, full of them,” he said. “I would hear one and I would go to the speech and I would copy it and paste it and I had just endless pages of these things.”
Phrases like “Shoot them,” “nasty woman,” “blood coming out of her wherever,” “shithole countries,” and “Jews shall not replace us” are just some of the examples he chose to write down.
“Why not go old-school,” he said, “and write an oratorio?”
For the uninitiated, an oratorio is a large musical composition for orchestra, chorus and soloists. While they usually have religious connotations, such as Handel’s “Messiah,” they can feature any kind of story. These pieces are performed without any costuming or staging, so the focus is on the music.
Paring down the vitriol he had written down took a while, as if he had written it all in, it would have been “over 24 hours.”
Named “Goat Songs of the Regime of Monsters: An Oratorio for A Certain Era,” the oratorio consists of six parts: “Make America Great Again,” “i don’t really care, do u,” “They’re Animals,” “The Three Torquemadas,” “The Women” and “A Descent into Madness.”
The first section, “Make America Great Again,” starts with a “Make America Great Again” chorus, with a soaring countertenor voice as Trump. “Villains are usually basses or baritones,” he said, “so I decided to take this kind of totally bizarre approach to making him the high voice.”
Each section features its own level of verbal horrors.
After Trump’s soaring melodies, Báthory-Kitsz also included a repeating melody from Melania, the phrase written on the back of a jacket she wore in June of 2018 to a visit to McAllen, Texas, that said, “I really don’t care. Do U?” He switched around the words and made it Melania’s refrain, “I don’t really care, do you?” “It also scans much better for a melody,” he said.
The latter half of the second part, which is named for the jacket’s text, has Melania Trump and Michele Obama singing a speech originally penned by Obama. Melania was found to have plagiarized the speech back in July of 2016. “Melania drops down to just a single note,” Báthory-Kitsz said. “And then when there’s a different word, she gets to have a different note. But when the words are the same, she just plows along. That restores the ownership of the speech to Michelle Obama.”
At the end, Melania sings, “I don’t really care, do u?”
Part three: “They’re Animals” features the chorus and Donald Trump with a slew of more nasty things. “Build the wall!” they cry. “Witch Hunt…Shoot them!” Trump’s melody floats above a piano rendition of “My Country Tis of Thee,” which is a jarring reminder of the reality of the piece. By the end of the section, the chorus has swelled to 11-part harmony. It’s intense. It’s really a cacophony of sound and vitriol.
Báthory-Kitsz said he’d written that whole section, in its entirety, in less than four days. “So I got to the end of that and I’m exhausted again.”
“I sketch in my head and discard stuff there before I write it down,” he said. “So, the entirety of this 25-minute oratorio was written in one draft. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t drafts before. It’s just that I didn’t write them down.”
Then comes the “Three Torquemadas:” Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Kirstjen Nielsen. Tomás de Torquemada, for which the section was named, was a Spanish friar in 13th century Spain. “He was the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition,” said Báthory-Kitsz. “He’s considered one of the most horrible people on the face of the earth.”
Each of the Torquemadas gets their own line, starting with a mellow, monk-like chant. “Then,” he said, “It goes into a very fluoridated, very mellow, melismatic kind of 14th century sound as they’re singing these horrible words.”
The fifth section, “The Women,” is 10 women who Trump directly insulted, quoting him back to his face. Stormy Daniels, Hillary Clinton, Megyn Kelly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Chelsea Manning are among them.
Stormy Daniels pokes fun at Trump by singing, “He knows he has an unusual penis.” Megyn Kelly sings, “Blood coming out,” all while Trump sings, “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women. I just start kissing them… Grab them by the pussy!”
Melania also makes an appearance, rising out with an, “I don’t really care, do you?”
According to the program, the last part, “A Descent into Madness,” is “Donald Trump’s word salad” accompanied by (to name just a few) Jared Kushner, Brett Kavanaugh, Mick Mulvaney, and Maxine Waters. There are several more polarizing figures, and the chorus backs it all up.
There’s more direct quoting by people who appeared in the fifth section, along with a hilarious pipe-in by Brett Kavanaugh, “I like beer!”
With such a political piece, Báthory-Kitsz had a hard time finding performers who would participate. “I just basically contacted everybody I knew in Vermont who was a singer. “Here’s a copy of the score, will you be in it?” And a lot of people said, “I have previous commitments,” or “I don’t want to be part of it.” Other people didn’t answer me at all. They didn’t respond. They just ghosted me on this thing, including a couple of choir directors, which was really a shock to me that they didn’t even transmit it onto their chorus.”
As Donald, Lear-like, descends into more and more gibberish, the chorus backs him up with a ghostly refrain of “shoot them, shoot them.” “Fake News,” he sings. “I’ve made a lot of sacrifices… Knock the crap out of them… the fingers aren’t as good as the brain… I know nothing… covfefe! Hamberder!”
At last, the chorus cries, “Shoot them!”
The performance of the piece was at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon, Vermont on Saturday, Nov. 2.
The piece itself is incredible to watch, and can be found at https://bit.ly/2DUanjr.