NEWBERRY, S.C. (courtesy newberry.edu) — On April 1, Dr. Sarah Masterson, associate professor of music at Newberry College, will release her much-anticipated album — a first-ever recording of Philippa Schuyler’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” The album will be published by Centaur Records and will be available through all major sellers and streaming services.
The album gives new life to one of the last works of Philippa Schuyler, concert pianist, composer and journalist whose music has been largely unheard since her untimely death 55 years ago.
Schuyler was born in 1931 in Harlem to George Schuyler, an African American journalist, and Josephine Cogdell, a white artist and writer from Texas. Philippa was performing Mozart at age five, and by 10 she had earned national fame as a young composer. As she entered young adulthood, her appeal among white Americans had declined, and she noted racial prejudice for the first time. After that, she left the U.S. and toured more than 80 countries, performing for numerous world leaders. In the 1960s, Schuyler became a published writer, and later a Vietnam correspondent for the Manchester Union Leader. She died in 1967, at age 35, while on a helicopter rescue mission in war-torn Vietnam.
Masterson discovered Schuyler nearly four years ago, and she soon found herself piecing together one of the late composer’s last pieces, the pages scattered throughout New York archives.
“I reassembled and transcribed the full work, using Schuyler’s combination of handwritten musical notation and performance instructions,” said Masterson. “In some of it, the music just stops, and she would say, ‘and now play these measures from this other movement, but with this in the left hand.’ So, I had to turn all that into musical notation,” she said.
Written in 1964-65, the technically complex, hour-long “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” was inspired by the book of the same title by T.E. Lawrence – more famously known as Lawrence of Arabia – about the British army officer’s participation in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
“Perhaps also influenced by [her] experiences reporting on war crimes in the Congo, the piece explores challenging ideas about conflict, violence and faith through interwoven themes spelled with her own musical alphabet.”
Masterson’s pioneering recording has earned her the attention of Schuyler’s biographer, Kathryn Talalay. “[Masterson’s] performance is eloquent and nuanced, and the lucid liner notes enhance our understanding of this complex, mosaic-like piece. It is a tour de force,” she wrote in her review.
Please click here to view the trailer for Masterson’s recording of Schuyler’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.”
Masterson joined the Newberry College faculty in 2014. She holds a doctorate and a master’s degree from the University of Connecticut, and a bachelor’s from DePauw University. For more information, visit SarahMastersonPianist.com.