In my previous post, I discussed how E. B. White’s Stuart Little put the ideas of world federalist Emery Reves into literary form. Next time, I’ll talk more generally about how White’s view of international law is implicated in his depiction of nature and his approach to English prose style. Today, I’d like to take a brief detour.
You may not know the name Marvin Hamlisch, but you more than likely have heard his music, especially if you enjoy Hollywood or Broadway. He wrote some of the greatest scores for both, from “The Sting” to “A Chorus Line.” As one might have expected of someone who enrolled in The Julliard School at the age of seven, he was one of an exceedingly small group of musicians to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, and Oscar, and a Tony—such paragons of popular song are known as EGOTs—and he was one of only two musicians to have won all those awards and a Pulitzer. Here is the theme he wrote for the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me”—followed by a recent performance of the song by Radiohead, for readers who may not want to be reminded of the 1970s.
And Hamlisch didn’t just write hits. If you want to get a sense of how important his background music was to the power of American film, try imagining this sequence from Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run,” about the hapless bank robber Virgil Starkwell, without Hamlisch’s score:
Hamlisch passed away just ten months ago, at the age of 68.
In addition to his popular work, Hamlisch wrote a classic symphonic suite that put into musical form the ideas of—guess who?—Emery Reves. The suite was called “Anatomy of Peace,” after Reves’s blueprint for world government, and it articulates the hope that one day the world will be governed by “one law.” The musical theme at the center of the suite is eventually sung by a children’s chorus, with the following words:
“Some fear the world, they hear the dissonance and say it will always be. I see the world as one community that must be joined by one law. One law for me, one law for all of us, that will unite us, someday. And I believe it’s not impossible, if we agree to one law.”
Here is how Hamlisch described the analogy he drew between law and music, which I recommend reading while playing the audio track from this video:
“I decided that Reves’s call for one law for us all could be defined by a simple, clear, plaintive theme, and that the orchestra would represent all the nations of the world and their different rules of law. The suite begins with the nations of the world in loud, cacophonous uproar. Suddenly, a solo flute introduces the ‘one Law’ theme, beckoning to us all; one law bringing us all together. But each section of the orchestra (our world) initially resists the call, since old habits are hard to break. The brass and the woodwinds are first to display their dislike of this new idea. But the flute acts as a magnet and slowly its pull (its logic) is felt, first by the woodwinds. When the theme returns, it is not alone. The strings, a big part of our world, must now be convinced, and finally they are. Our theme is now given words, first introduced by a solo child, and then sung again by a children’s chorus. Slowly the irresistibility of the idea begins to weave a spell on the orchestra and the penultimate section of the piece is a contemplative one, as the world thinks about what the new world order would be. Finally, Reves’s dream is musically realized, as the entire orchestra accepts the ‘one Law’ concept.”
I love the idea of putting Reves’s legal vision to music—and I suspect that E. B. White would have, too. In The Wild Flag, after all, he asserted that “at their earliest convenience the delegates to the United Nations Organization should form an orchestra” and that “once a week all deliberations, all matters of state, should be put aside and the public invited to the assembly hall to hear that rarest of sound—the concord of nations” (the year was 1946). “There is, in fact,” he continued, “great need that the U.N.O. delegates find some human activity or pastime which will illustrate people’s ability to lose themselves in a universal theme, to harmonize, and to create beauty by following a single score rather than fifty-one separate scores.” He especially recommended that the orchestra take up Gershwin.
Surely White also would have approved of Hamlisch putting the words of his “one law” theme into the mouths of children (after all, in White’s work, they so often seem to know “what’s important”). And I bet he would have been taken, too, with the introduction of Hamlisch’s theme by a single flute. There’s something about the heartbreaking sound of that instrument that perfectly captures the notion of an aesthetic ideal serving as a moral guide—a principle of beauty and love acting as a north star nations follow as they develop and grow, just like a little mouse-judge named Stuart went searching for—
Why hello, Margalo! It’s nice at last to see hear your whistle!