Stephen Scotti was a musician and composer who set many of Cummings’ poems to music and organized a musical review of his settings called ViVa Cummings! [later revised and retitled as “E. E.! (Viva Cummings)”]. In 1990, at the end of the run of the old series of Spring, Scotti wrote of his work on ViVa Cummings: “I was overwhelmed with joy . . . with all the feeling that was in the Mazur Theatre that night brought about because of the love we all have for this most remarkable of men, E. E. Cummings. . . . I put this work together out of love for this poet. I had no commission or underlying motive to put in the amount of time it took to realize these songs and [arrange] the order of the poems to create the experience of the spirit of the poet as if bringing him back to life in a darkened theatre” (“Scotti Discusses” 12). David Forrest’s review of that performance amply supported Scotti’s feelings:
The twenty or so of us from the E. E Cummings Society who heard and saw VIVA CUMMINGS! . . . were unanimously enthusiastic and praising as we met afterwards with Mr. Scotti and the actors. We especially appreciated the great care that had gone into the order of the poems. The first act deals with Cummings’ bawdy and political satire, the second with the big themes of love and death. The three actors were brilliant effective and creative. (10)
Throughout the review, Scotti performed at the piano, giving, Forrest reported, “virtuoso renderings of many of the most sardonic dialect pieces, such as ‘next to of course god america i.’ The rendering of ‘Jimmie’s got a goil goil goil,/ Jimmie’ in successive versions in the style of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, with everything from Durante to rock, torch and double-time, was a crown jewel of the evening” (10-11). Forrest added: “Every college English teacher should have as a fondest wish that students see this production.” Forrest’s review concludes: “this night nothing disappointed, and the production set a standard showing what such musical settings can do when the composer is at one with the lyrics and the poet’s spirit. I shall always hear some of the poems Mr. Scotti’s way” (11).
Stephen Scotti was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, raised in the North End of Boston (where he learned to play piano and accordion), and educated at Rindge Technical School in Cambridge, and at Boston University, where he received a degree in music. His obituary in the Gloucester Times reports that “Mr. Scotti taught music at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut and also the Lawrence Vocational School of Lawrence, Mass.” Scotti later became a piano technician and tuner, a job that allowed him time to pursue his vocation as a musician. After tuning a piano, Scotti would often sit down and play. In her memorial piece on Scotti, Gail McCarthy quotes Gloria Stanton: “he . . . started playing these incredible pieces of music. I came out of the kitchen, and what he was playing brought tears to my eyes.”
In addition to the poems of Cummings, Scotti also set to music the works of William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and Bertolt Brecht (Goodwin 163). In Spring 5 (1996), Rufus Goodwin reported that
Scotti has performed his arrangements of the poetry of William Butler Yeats and the lyrics and limericks of Edward Lear in England, in St. George’s Hall in Glastonbury. . . . Also in the ’80s, Scotti performed the Irish poet’s poems at the Yeats summer school in Sligo. He had to tune the old German grand piano at the annual summer program himself. (163-164)
Scotti also wrote and produced at least one other musical revue, Songs and Stories of Cape Ann and Cape America (McCarthy). One can hear Scotti performing two of the songs from the review here. He also set some of his own lyrics to music, among them a little ditty called “Burn All the Flags,” whose chorus goes: “Burn all the flags / from here to Xanadu / Undrape the world / to free me and you” (quoted in Goodwin 164).
As noted in Norman Friedman’s bibliography in The Theatre of E. E. Cummings, ViVa Cummings! was first presented in Gloucester, MA, October 1984, with direction and choreography by William A. Finlay. The review was also performed at the Provincetown Inn, May 1990, and presented by the Blue Heron Theatre Company at the Mazur Theatre in New York City, October 1990, as well on tour in April 1992 in Bogota, Columbia and Caracas, Venezuela (here’s the complete program for the May 1990 production). To Friedman’s list, Rufus Goodwin adds performances on Martha’s Vineyard and Boston University in October 1994. Goodwin also notes that William Finlay directed a “circus” version of the show, including “trapezes, clowns, and stilts,” produced “for summer theatre at Union College, Schenectady, New York, in 1995.” Finlay reported that the circus version was “even ‘more magical’ than the concert version” (Goodwin 163).
In Spring 8 (1999), Forrest reviewed a new production of the slightly renamed E.E.! (Viva Cummings) performed in April of that year at the Blue Heron Arts Center, New York City. Forrest noted that Norman Friedman “greatly enjoyed” the performance while also pointing out in typical Norman fashion “that Scotti’s selections emphasize Cummings’ earlier works, especially the lyrical and satiric ones, which lend themselves to theatrical presentation, at the expense of the philosophical” (180). The “News, Notes, Correspondence” section of Spring 11 (2002) reported that “Stephen Scotti and Kristine Stott gave a very successful concert of Cummings poems set to music at the ALA Conference in Cambridge, MA, May 24-27, 2001 (228). Like Forrest, I vividly remember the performance of “Jimmie’s got a goil” (CP 233) in the successive pop styles of the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. In 2006, Kristine Stott recorded a CD of Scotti songs, including some Scotti originals, eight Cummings songs, and two settings of Dorothy Parker’s poems. (Among the Cummings songs on the album are “May I Feel,” “Maggie and Millie and Mollie and May,” and “Jimmie’s Got a Goil.”) Although this CD is out of print, one can listen to each track individually on You Tube. Or the entire CD may be downloaded electronically from Apple iTunes, Great Indie Music, or CD Baby.
As I reported in Spring 17 (2010), Scotti sent me a homemade CD of his own performances of settings of three Cummings poems: “O the sun comes up-up-up in the opening” (CP 773), “(of Ever-Ever Land i speak” (CP 466), and “i thank You God for most this amazing” (CP 663). (Clicking on these links downloads the file.) These three tracks long remained unplayable on any device that I possessed, but now that technicians at my university have restored them, we can hear Scotti’s own (somewhat scratchy) performances. I hope that, despite the imperfect restoration of the three songs, one can hear in them what Rufus Goodwin called Scotti’s “showbiz sound, as if Scotti were an old hoofer, a tap dancer, a former carnival man, maybe a barker” (165). In a note to me that accompanied the three-song CD, Scotti wrote:
I learned everything I know about Cummings from Slater Brown who lived in Rockport, MA with his amazing wife. I performed “i thank You God for most this amazing / day” at his memorial service in Rockport. He asked me to sing it for him before he died. (169)
In the manner of Cummings, Scotti’s circus-jazz-vaudeville style could serve serious purposes as well. Goodwin quotes Scotti as saying: “To me, the song . . . is the distillation of truth with the right selected words and the right selected melody. This is reality. The rest of the time is unreal” (161).
Grand Valley State University
Goodwin, Rufus. “E. E. Poetry in Performance: Scotti and Cummings.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 5 (1996): 161-168.
Forrest, David V. “Forrest Reviews ‘Viva Cummings’.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society Old Series 10.2 (October 1990): 10-11.
—. “Review of E.E.! (Viva Cummings): A Musical Review Conceived and Composed by Steve Scotti.” (Blue Heron Arts Center, New York City, April 16, 1999) Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 8 (1999): 179-180.
McCarthy, Gail. “Stephen Scotti Recalled as Consummate Musician.” Gloucester Daily Times Wednesday, July 3, 2013. Web.
“News, Notes, Correspondence.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 11 (2002): 169-171. Print and Web.
“News, Notes, & Correspondence.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 17 (2010): 152-175. Print and Web.
Scotti, Stephen R. “Stephen Scotti Discusses Production and Review.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society Old Series 10.2 (October 1990): 12-13.
—. “VIVA CUMMINGS! On the Road in South America (April 1992).” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 3 (1994): 97-101.
“Stephen Scotti.” Gloucester Poet Laureate (dedicated to the poets and poetry of Gloucester MA), 2009. Web.
“Stephen R. Scotti, 78.” Gloucester Daily Times July 1, 2013. Web.
Stott, Kristine. May I Feel: Songs by Stephen Scotti. CD. Swansong Productions, 2006. [Available on You Tube or download at Apple iTunes, Great Indie Music, or CD Baby]
Track List for Kristine Stott’s CD May I Feel: Songs by Stephen Scotti
- Come Gaze with Me 2:45
- Valentine for New York 2:17
- Interior 3:42
- Sweet Spring 2:16
- Modes of Attire 2:47
- Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town 4:53
- A Strand of Pearls 2:03
- Maggie and Millie and Mollie and May 2:23
- May I Feel 1:51
- This Little Pair 1:45
- I Thank You, God 2:57
- Unfortunate Coincidence/One Perfect Rose 2:30 [Dorothy Parker]
- The Satin Dress 2:17
- Resume 1:11 [Dorothy Parker]
- Jimmie’s Got a Goil 4:23