August 4, 1964 – the Oratorio

On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced to the American public that North Vietnamese gunboats had attacked U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The subsequent Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed by Congress (and signed buy LBJ, above ) provided him with a de facto Declaration of War, setting in motion the big buildup of American troops and eight years of the American war in Vietnam.

“August 4, 1964” is the name of a new “secular oratorio” by composer Steven Stucky, with a libretto by Gene Scheer, which the Dallas Symphony performed September 18th to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of LBJ’s birth. “The piece, ” critic Chris Shull wrote in the Fort Worth Star Telegram “is coherent, dramatically gripping, thematically relevant and musically accessible.”

“August 4, 1964” also deals with another event that happened that day–the discovery of the bodies of three slain civil rights workers in Mississippi. The oratorio does so using a combined orchestra, large chorus and four vocal soloists conducted by Jaap van Zweden.

“August 4, 1964” “deserves to be performed again and again, ” Shull said. “It is American music, speaking on American history. It touches the American soul.”

“The work lived up to its outsize ambitions, ” The New York Times ‘s James R. Oestrich said in his review , “and Mr. van Zweden led a beautifully prepared and dynamic performance.”


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