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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“That music always round me”: 21st century choral settings of the poetry of Walt Whitman
by Hunn, Amy Stuart, D.M.A., University of Southern California, 2012, 260; 3514188
Abstract (Summary)

Choral compositions, with few exceptions, begin with text. Text comes first, music comes second. This was true for the medieval cleric setting Gregorian chant, and it is true for the 21st-century composer creating a new work. The relationship between text and music is a complex one. There is a distinct element of music involved in the creation of poetry—and inherent to the poetic form itself, as a result. In setting a text to music, a composer does more than simply respond to the meaning of the words: there is the music of the text, expressed in its structure and form, its imagery, its sonic characteristics, its pace, and its affect, that determines a composer's musical response to it. Like poetry, music has the potential to convey far more than just the information contained within its component parts. Its meaning goes well beyond what can be printed on the page, either in the form of written language or musical notation. The combination of music and poetry, each with its own distinctly indefinable component, makes choral music a particularly rich source of potential meaning, but also particularly challenging to analyze.

That complex relationship between music and text is the real focus of this dissertation. The project itself employs a relatively narrow focus; it concentrates on Walt Whitman settings published by four American composers—Robert Maggio, Nico Muhly, Steven Sametz, and John Muehleisen—between 2004 and 2008. This allows for a more comprehensive examination of Whitman's distinctive poetic style, and enables more direct comparisons between composer responses. However, the detailed poetic analysis and text-focused musical analysis demonstrated in this project can be broadly applied to any musical work incorporating text.

In addition to the analysis forming the core of this project, each of the four composers was interviewed about his compositional process and his approach to choosing and setting text. Full transcripts of three of these interviews (the fourth could not be recorded due to technical problems) are included as appendices, and an analysis of general practices and attitudes among the four composers is included as a separate chapter.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Grases, Cristian
Commitee: Gilbert, Adam K., Strimple, Nick
School: University of Southern California
Department: Choral Music
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 73/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Music
Keywords: Choral, Maggio, Robert, Muehleisen, John, Muhly, Nico, Poetry, Sametz, Steven, Whitman, Walt
Publication Number: 3514188
ISBN: 978-1-267-44949-8
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