About this Piece
A native of Tucson, Arizona, and the nephew of Joe “King” Oliver, Ulysses Kay led a prolific five-decade career as a composer and educator. Kay was considered one of the leading Black composers of his generation, though he often found more enthusiasm abroad with audiences in Italy or the Soviet Union—the latter of which he toured on behalf of the U.S. State Department—than at home. He described his musical approach as “enlightened modernism,” showing some of the dissonant and angular tonalities of his influential teacher Paul Hindemith, though with more hummable melodies.
Theater Set was commissioned by the Junior League of Atlanta for Robert Shaw, to whom it is dedicated, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The composer called it his tribute to “show music without quoting any popular theater tunes,” reflecting the burlesque shows he’d seen growing up at the Rialto Theater in Tucson.