Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

John Harbison's “Simple Daylight”: A Textual and Musical Analysis
by Duggins Pender, Amy, D.M.A., University of Cincinnati, 2011, 123; 3475092
Abstract (Summary)

John Harbison's choice of literary material for his vocal repertoire has been diverse, ranging from classic poets such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Emily Dickinson, and Thomas Hardy to modern and even ancient writers, such as Elizabeth Bishop, William Carlos Williams, Czeslaw Milosz, and translations of the fifteenth-century Hindu poet Mirabai. At the same time, Harbison has been drawn to certain poets several times, including Eugenio Montale, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, and the art historian Michael Fried.

Despite the fact that Fried is a lesser-known poet, Harbison has been drawn to set his verse repeatedly. Simple Daylight, however, is the only vocal work of Harbison that relies solely on Fried's texts. This thesis explores the reasons why Harbison was inspired to set Fried's poems so many times.

In the program note for Simple Daylight, Harbison wrote that his ordering of Fried's poems made "a sequence closer in tone to a Bach cantata text than to a nineteenth-century song cycle" and evoked "a sub-cutaneous narrative very favorable for musical purposes, but no doubt unintended by the poet." This statement begs the question of how the ordering of the texts made the piece more akin to a Bach cantata than a nineteenth-century song cycle.

At first glance, Simple Daylight seems to fit the definition of a song cycle. Harbison himself asserted that the ordering of the poems suggested a "sub-cutaneous narrative"—a thread that drew the pieces into a whole. Might Harbison have employed other cyclic devices as well, such as common musical motives or a reprise of music within the work?

In order to answer these questions, I analyzed Simple Daylight to discover why Harbison believed that the piece was textually more akin to a Bach cantata than a song cycle. This analysis involved researching the primary characteristics of Bach's cantata texts and comparing these to the texts of Simple Daylight. Then I examined the musical treatment of the poetry, and, through the use of set theory, I identified musical and structural devices that unify the piece. These analyses ultimately revealed whether the piece is a true song cycle or merely a set of songs with texts by the same poet that are organized in a cantata-like fashion.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: mcclung, bruce
Commitee: Hoffman, Joel, Zierolf, Robert
School: University of Cincinnati
Department: Voice
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-A 73/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Music
Keywords: Bach cantatas, Fried, Michael, Harbison, John, Musical analysis, Simple Daylight, Song cycle, Textual analysis
Publication Number: 3475092
ISBN: 978-1-124-92815-9
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