Ezra Pound sought proof in Villon’s poetry of the structural properties of relative duration—rhyming properties that could be culled from duration or time. He wanted to bring that proof forward as a listening exercise. Pound also heard in Villon a rhythmic sensibility across a lifetime, something that would suggest sophisticated tools for adapting the palette of The Cantos to discontinuous perceptions and diverse sources. Pound's decision to compose an opera based on Villon's Testament was propelled by the need to move from a fine instinct for musical rhythms to the creation of new voices, each with distinctive tonal leadings and rhythms, and the sustain of the voices across a poem to be written over the course of a lifetime. Throughout his lifetime work The Cantos Pound signals his voice with an iconic durational construct—the Poundian 3/16 “moment”—Schafer’s “breath-pattern of the master artificer.” Pound's poems of the 1920s attempt to simulate the poet’s breath: Villon’s at 7/16; Catullus’s at 9/16; Homer’s at 5/16. His recordings allow us to trace "duration rhymes" in his poems, lines that echo the length of other lines, giving a sense of structure, while following very different inner rhythmic properties based on quantity and on the sequence of the vowels and consonants. "Duration rhymes" are also proportional constructs, as in Canto 36, based on Cavalcanti's "Donna mi prega."
Artwork for this notebook is by Arial, for the 1921 world premiere of Pound's 1923 opera at Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley, California, conducted by Robert Hughes. The audio CD of the complete opera is available at