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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A comparative analysis of John Corigliano's "Fern Hill" and Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915"
by Oh, Stacy, M.M., California State University, Long Beach, 2014, 50; 1528010
Abstract (Summary)

John Corigliano is one of the most important and celebrated contemporary American composers. Corigliano did not believe in restricting himself to one readily identifiable style. However, he did state that during his early period, he was much more "musically innocent," drawing inspiration from composers such as Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Leonard Bernstein. In his early twenties, Corigliano had yet to develop a musical language that was distinctly his own, but rather borrowed ideas from his predecessors. His music at this time better represented the influence of other composers. This paper will examine how John Corigliano drew influences from Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 in composing Fern Hill through a comparative analysis of both works.

Fern Hill is a sixteen-minute choral/orchestral cantata with text that is taken directly from Dylan Thomas's poem of the same title. Corigliano wrote this piece for his high school choral director, who encouraged him to pursue music as a career. Knoxville: Summer of 1915 is also a sixteen-minute work written for soprano and orchestra. Barber wrote it around the time when his father's health started to deteriorate, and perhaps drew influence from that circumstance, similar to how James Agee wrote this poem when his father was dying.

John Corigliano and Samuel Barber seem to be drawn to the works and writing styles of Dylan Thomas and James Agee respectively. Both composers have set other works by these authors in different pieces. I will explore if there is a pattern in the types of text each composer chooses to set in their music, as well as do a poetic analysis on Fern Hill and Knoxville: Summer of 1915. It is clear that both composers made it a priority to have the music support the text. As the tone of the poem shifts, so does the music through the changes in dynamics, tempo, and texture. We also see several instances of word painting throughout both works. Each composer's musical setting of the text captures the essence of the poetry.

It is readily apparent that there is an undeniable musical connection between the two works just from listening to the first few minutes of each of them. The orchestration is nearly identical to both works. The orchestral texture and meter are also comparable, as well as the abrupt changes in tempo and tonality when shifting into different sections. Corigliano even quotes some small musical ideas from Barber's work as if he were paying homage to him. He also brings back certain themes throughout the entire work but in altered manners, similar to what Barber did Knoxville: Summer of 1915 .

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Talberg, Jonathan
School: California State University, Long Beach
School Location: United States -- California
Source: MAI 53/01M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Music
Keywords: Barber, Samuel, Corigliano, John, Fern hill, Knoxville
Publication Number: 1528010
ISBN: 978-1-303-98534-8
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