Instrumentation: Baritone, Piano, and Muted Trumpet or Clarinet
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a commentary on the relationship Black Americans have with themselves and the world around them. As the title suggests, it is a world navigated through the lens of a narrator who although exists in a physical state, reminds the readers that he is invisible because, “people refuse to see [him] me.”
This is a setting of the first paragraph of the prologue.
The brooding introduction invites the listener to sit in discomfort just before the baritone sings. The motive is reminiscent of a rather melancholic march and symbolizes the nomadic state of the narrator wandering throughout life. He is accompanied by a muted trumpet (or clarinet) as a tribute to Ellison’s love of jazz. An ectoplasmic world meets us in the first section of the aria as he affirms that he is not to be feared in terms of the supernatural, but that he is indeed an actual living being, who, despite what others might think, is capable of his own thought processes.
The next sound world we enter is that of a circus. The Invisible Man compares his existence to that of being a part of a side show whose mirrors distort the view of himself, and those who seem to surround him.
The piece closes as it began with the same fretful chords and sad march.
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