Musical Collaborations

In memory of Toni Morrison (1931-2019), the Princeton University Library has acquired two autograph music manuscripts containing drafts and sketches that the contemporary American composer Richard Danielpour wrote in pencil on the pages of orchestral score books: (1) Sweet Talk: Four Songs on Texts by Toni Morrison, a song cycle commissioned as part of the 1996 Princeton Atelier Program, for mezzo-soprano Jessye Norman (who recently passed), with instrumental accompaniment, 1995-96; and (2) Spirits in the Well, another song cycle with lyrics by Morrison, composed for voice and instrumental accompaniment at Yaddo, the artists’ community in Saratoga Springs, New York, November 1997. These two manuscripts will form a new one-box collection complementing related materials in the Toni Morrison Papers (C1491) The papers contain Morrison’s own files related to collaborations with Richard Danielpour, including these two song cycles and the opera Margaret Garner(2005), for which she wrote the libretto. Danielpour recalls, “When I realized that Beloved was based on the historical account of Margaret Garner, I thought, [Toni] is the person who needs to write [the libretto].” Morrison’s other well-known musical collaboration was Honey and Rue, a song cycle composed by André Previn with lyrics by Morrison for the soprano Kathleen Battle and chamber orchestra, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1992.

The papers of Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate in Literature (1993) and Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities (Emeritus) at Princeton University, contain several hundred boxes of archival materials documenting her life and work, including manuscript drafts and other materials pertaining to her eleven published novels: The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981), Beloved (1987), Jazz (1992), Paradise (1997), Love (2003), A Mercy (2008), Home (2012), and God Help the Child (2015). Morrison was especially fond of her work at the Princeton Atelier and fruitful collaborations with Danielpour and other composers and creative artists. Now part of the Lewis Center for the Arts, the Princeton Atelier, in its own words, “brings together professional artists from different disciplines to create new work in the context of a semester-long course.” When President Christopher Eisgruber announced on Friday, October 17, in Richardson Auditorium, that Morrison’s papers had found their permanent home in Firestone Library, the author responded by thanking Princeton for some of the happiest days of her life, both in the classroom and the Atelier. When the manuscripts have been cataloged, descriptions will be available in the online catalog and finding aids.

Richard Danielpour, Sweet Talk (detail).