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Arts Synthesis Panel

Saturday, January 16, 3:00pm
Geiringer Hall
Michael Joiner, chair

Arts Synthesis Panel: Vicente Chavarria, Michael Joiner, Erin Brooks, and Meghan C. Joyce

Arts Synthesis Panel: Vicente Chavarria, Michael Joiner (chair), Erin Brooks, and Meghan C. Joyce

"Poetry and Music in the Spanish Romance, s. XV-XVI"

Vicente Chavarria, Musicology
University of Miami-Frost School of Music

The connection between poetry and music has been very strong since the need to relate long tales of any kind arose, be they actual news of the time, historical tales, legends, myths, or popular fantasies. In the Biblical Scriptures, the songs of praise or prayer are precisely that—songs, always with the intention of being intoned musically with the voice. From the Songs of Moses and Miriam to the Psalms of David (whose music has been preserved, to a certain extent, in the Jewish cantorial tradition), music has always possessed the power to emotionally move the listener; this power could only have aided these long epics in being more efficient in conveying their messages. In the Middle Ages, the bards, minstrels, and troubadours were extremely important not only in musical matters, but also as communication media among the European noble courts. All this would influence the Spanish romance in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

In this paper, I seek to trace the early influences on the romance through selections of medieval literature; in particular, I focus on tracing the roots of the octosyllabic verse and the adoption of this metric system into a tradition that was almost singularly oral. The corpus of romances offers a great variety of styles, subject matter, and even music, and still the remnants of older yet analogous forms are still tangible. From the Cantigas de Santa María and the chansons de geste to Gautier de Coincy's Les Miracles de Nostre Dame, I examine what elements of each made their way into the romance tradition, all the while providing concrete musical examples in order to demonstrate a collaboration between text (the message) and music (the media).

"Playing Poems, Saying Songs: The adaptation musicale in late nineteenth-century France"

Erin Brooks, Musicology
Washington University, St. Louis

In the late nineteenth-century, Parisian artists sought to integrate music and the written word in a variety of innovative ways. Among the least-studied of these is the genre adaptation musicale, a category of composition where poems are declaimed above newly composed music. Though some works tapped into Symbolist discourse, adaptations musicales more commonly turned to earlier lyric poets such as Hugo and Musset rather than contemporary poets such as Verlaine.

Adaptations were generally performed in theaters by actors and musicians. Although informal performances occurred in salons throughout the nineteenth century, the adaptation as a recognizable genre flourished in the last two decades of the century. Epitomized by the compositions of Francis Thomé and the performances of actor Léon Brémont, adaptations offered fin-de-siècle audiences a new mechanism for melding words to music. Indeed Brémont felt adaptations might finally achieve true equality between poetry and music.

Using manuscript and print editions of the music, accounts of performances, and instructive manuals such as Brémont's L'art de dire les vers, I analyze the aesthetic goals and resultant works of this genre. Ultimately I contextualize adaptations musicales within analogous contemporary efforts to fuse music and the written word.

"Synthesizing the Arts: Tennessee Williams's Applications of Richard Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk"

Meghan C. Joyce, Musicology
University of California, Santa Barbara

The vision of a synthesis of the arts, famously asserted by Richard Wagner in his idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, has influenced dramatists on an international scale. In this paper, I will focus on American playwright Tennessee Williams, who advocates a move toward the implementation of various art forms simultaneously in order to evoke emotion. A dramatist interested in uniting poetry, music, and the relatively new medium of screen projections, Williams represents key parts of Wagner's goal, reinterpreted and applied within a new context. Like Wagner, Williams strives for artistic revolution, which he sees as necessitated by a loss of truth in art forms. While Wagner was reacting to a culture that separates music and words, Williams's reaction was against realist ideals that reject poetic techniques.

In this paper, I will explore how Williams creates a musical, fugal effect in written words by manipulating the use of consonants and meter in conversations between characters in Sweet Bird of Youth and The Night of the Iguana. But the clearest link to Wagner's ideals is Williams's redefinition of the boundaries of the reminiscence motif. He redefines this technique to include written words in the forty-four screen projections that serve to guide the audience's memory process in The Glass Menagerie, as well as spoken words with or without specific semantic meaning in The Night of the Iguana. Tracing Wagnerian evocative concepts such as reminiscent motifs has a venerable tradition in the written works of great modernist novelists, but is relatively unfamiliar in American drama. I am not interested in demonstrating an organic or biographical connection between Wagner and Williams; rather, I would like to reopen a classic question: if language could be remade to evoke a parallelism to music, how exactly would this happen?

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