Words, words, words…

I’m back! These posts are starting out sparse because, as of now, I’m still waiting on some of my music via InterLibrary Loan and am mostly reading books to give myself context and background information. And, as excited as I am about reading all three volumes of Ruth Friedberg’s “American Art Song and American Poetry,” I can see how that might not make for as interesting a blog post to share with the world.

I’ve made my way entirely through the first volume and am almost done with the second. These books work chronologically through the history of the American song, starting with the late 1800s and moving through the first two thirds of the 20th century. I really like the format Friedberg uses in these volumes, as she begins by outlining the historical changes and European music trends which might serve as catalysts for changes in American style. Then, she goes into detail on certain monumental composers, and – this may be the most interesting part – she also details the relationships between them and their favorite poets to set. From there, she examines certain songs as examples of American compositional and text setting techniques, including images directly from scores so that musicians reading the book can examine the music and texts for themselves. I’ve found that it has been very helpful not only for contextualizing the extremely contemporary music that I plan to study, but it has also helped me to highlight certain musical elements which might be worth including in my own analysis of the music. I’ve got a long list of angles from which I can approach the music, ranging from the ever-important rhythm and harmony to word painting, texture, and use of the voice’s extended techniques.

Taking advantage of the campus beaches for a change of pace while reading! #gocats

I also had a meeting with Prof. Davies, who was awesome enough to sponsor my research project this summer. He is a musicology professor here at Northwestern and recently taught a class entirely on English and American art songs, so he had some amazing literary and musical resources to share with me. He also spent several years studying in Toronto and suggested I check out Canadian composer John Beckwith, who has composed two different sets of songs for soprano and baritone which use only cummings’s poetry. Canadian music has developed hand in hand with American music, so I put in a request to InterLibrary Loan just a few days ago and now have ten new songs to add to my studies! I could not be more excited to discover this new repertoire – and four of the songs are for soprano (which I am), so bonus points for me! Professor Davies also showed me his method for descriptive analysis of songs, which I will be using on my selected repertoire for the next two or three weeks in order to track the compositional similarities and differences. From there, I’m sure I will find several interesting traits or inconsistencies worth exploring in detail and will delve deeper into certain elements of music in order to ask the right questions to direct my research further.

I can’t wait to begin the actual musical analysis of this project! All the reading I’m doing is, of course, teaching me plenty, but it is also just making me even more excited.

Until next time!

Véronique