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Comparative Text Settings Panel

Saturday, January 16, 10:00am
Music Room 1145
Sasha Metcalf, chair

Comparative Text Settings Panel: Sasha Metcalf, Katherine Saxon, Pui-lok Wong, and Nicholas Jurkowski

Comparative Text Settings Panel: Sasha Metcalf (chair), Katherine Saxon, Pui-lok Wong, and Nicholas Jurkowski

"Mirroring Poetic and Musical Structure: A Comparison of Three Settings of James Joyce's 'Strings in the Earth and Air'"

Nicholas Jurkowski, Music Theory
University of California, Santa Barbara

The poetry of James Joyce, while perhaps not as widely read as his prose works, has proven to be a fertile ground for musical settings; selections from Joyce's Chamber Music and Pomes Penyeach, for example, have been set by over one hundred composers. While these poems often do not express the same multiplicity of voices and thematic fluidity as his prose works, they exhibit a rich emotional tapestry, and contain many subtle structural nuances that present composers of potential musical settings with important choices regarding how (and whether or not to) reflect the poem's structure musically.

In this paper, I undertake a structural, as well as thematic, analysis of Joyce's "Strings in the Earth and Air" (from Chamber Music), focusing on meter and rhyme-scheme. I then compare my findings to the formal and tonal (where applicable) structures of three settings of this poem, by Samuel Barber, Israel Citkowitz, and Luciano Berio. Through these analyses it becomes clear that, while many of the musical gestures at the surface of the respective works are similar, and reflect the poem's broad themes, each composer's setting of the poem supports a different reading of the poem's structure, which in turn emphasizes different aspects, and subtly changes the poem's meaning in the context of each song.

"The Muted Approach: Debussy's composed reading and re-reading of Paul Verlaine's En sourdine"

Pui-lok Wong, Music Theory
The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Poems by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) — a notable figure of fin de siècle in French literature — were clearly favorites of Claude Debussy (1865-1918): he composed no fewer than seventeen musical settings of Verlaine poems. Among his Verlaine settings, Debussy set several of them twice, particularly revisiting those set early in his life. This paper examines his two settings of Verlaine's En sourdine.

The first version of En sourdine ("Muted") was composed in 1882, but was not published until 1944. Debussy revisited the poem in 1892, and his second setting was collected in Fêtes galantes I, published in 1903. There are many similarities between the well-known later setting, and the almost-unknown earlier one, including the use of expanded three-part song form, and the plan of the verse setting. However, a number of substantial differences between them can also be found, such as contrasting vocal range and register. Changes of tempo and meter are observed in the later setting; while in the earlier setting there are both the repetition of lines and omission of word in the text. The "composed readings" of the two settings are rather different, and it is in the details that the interest emerges.

Using Steven Scher's model of "composed reading", the present paper will compare compositional approaches and text settings of the two versions of En sourdine, that is to investigate Debussy's "reading" and "re-reading" of the poem. The intention of Debussy's return to the same poem will also be discussed, in order to reveal his "discovery" and "rediscovery" of the same poem ten years apart.

"From Word to Music: A Poem's Journey from Page to Score"

Katherine Saxon, Music Composition
University of California, Santa Barbara

In this paper I will demonstrate some of the processes and methods that I use as a composer to transform a poem from its printed page to a multi part choral score, and highlight some of the issues involved in this process. I will be making an example of my recent composition "You Put Apples to Your Lips," which sets the poem "for a wedding on mount Tamalpais" by Jane Hirshfield. This will involve my initial analysis of the poem and demonstrate how it serves as a springboard for the first musical sketch, by helping to predetermine the potential repetitions of musical material and elucidate the overall structure. From here I will explore some of the issues involved in maintaining the sense of the poem as it makes the transition from singular voice (as it exists on the page or in solo song) to multiple voices. Some of theses issues include: the accentual nature of the English language and how it relates to both rhythm and tempo, registration and diction, imitation and the obscuring of text. I will also discuss the highlighting key words by musical methods such as harmonic interest, repetition, rhythmical and metrical weight in order to ensure a generalized sense of the poem. At the conclusion of my papers presentation I would like to present a performance of the completed composition by the UCSB Composers' Choir.

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