When Music and Literature intertwine.


When literature intertwines with music, it creates a whole new world that can be a fertile ground in which both musicians and writers strive to experiment. As composers, we look for amazing and out-of-the-ordinary texts. Inspired by this, we can create or bring to life the world that the writer imagined. As choral conductors, we look for poems with outstanding word choice, energy, gaps, and leaps. These poems must evoke emotion(s) in the audience when they read them. After the composer adds music to this poem, and when a choir sings and the choir sings the poem –now song– it will transcend time and space, while reality shatters for a moment.

In this post we are going to see how Eric Whitacre (choral conductor, composer, and arranger) was inspired by Charles Anthony Silvestri’s poetry. This post will only expose the concept of what the philosophy of The Art of Musical Poetry is about. The pieces we are going to explore are: Sleep, Leonardo Dreams of his flying machine and Nox Aurumque.

Here’s an example of when Choral Conductor/Composer/Arranger Eric Whitacre (http://ericwhitacre.com/)makes a poems take flight (Charles Anthony Silvestri’s poetry) by adding music.

The first one we are going to examine is Sleep.

The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon

Upon my pillow, safe in bed,
A thousand pictures fill my head,
I cannot sleep, my minds aflight,
And yet my limbs seem made of lead

If there are noises in the night,
A frightening shadow, flickering light…
Then I surrender unto sleep,
Where clouds of dream give second sight.

What dreams may come, both dark and deep
Of flying wings and soaring leap
As I surrender unto sleep
As I surrender unto sleep.

Charles Anthony Silvestri, 1965-present

For the story behind this piece go to: http://ericwhitacre.com/music-catalog/satb-choral/sleep

Another one is Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine. This choral piece portrays a young Leonardo Da Vinci tormented by his visions of a flying man.

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine

I.
Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…

Tormented by visions of flight and falling,
More wondrous and terrible each than the last,
Master Leonardo imagines an engine
To carry a man up into the sun…

And as he’s dreaming the heavens call him,
softly whispering their siren-song:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)

L’uomo colle sua congiegniate e grandi ale,
facciendo forza contro alla resistente aria.
(A man with wings large enough and duly connected
might learn to overcome the resistance of the air.)

II.
Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…

As the candles burn low he paces and writes,
Releasing purchased pigeons one by one
Into the golden Tuscan sunrise…

And as he dreams, again the calling,
The very air itself gives voice:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)

Vicina all’elemento del fuoco…
(Close to the sphere of elemental fire…)

Scratching quill on crumpled paper,

Rete, canna, filo, carta.
(Net, cane, thread, paper.)

Images of wing and frame and fabric fastened tightly.

…sulla suprema sottile aria.
(…in the highest and rarest atmosphere.)

III.
Master Leonardo Da Vinci Dreams of his Flying Machine…
As the midnight watchtower tolls,
Over rooftop, street and dome,
The triumph of a human being ascending
In the dreaming of a mortal man.

Leonardo steels himself,
takes one last breath,
and leaps…

“Leonardo, Vieni á Volare! Leonardo, Sognare!” (“Leonardo, come fly! Leonardo, Dream!”)

Charles Anthony Silvestri, 1965-present

And last but not least, Nox Aurumque.

This piece is the continuation of another piece titled Lux Aurumque. Whitacre wanted to create a second part to Lux aurumque and asked Silvertri to write something in Latin whose lyrics in Latin could be easily manipulated when sung. For all the background information, on how this piece came to be you can go to: http://ericwhitacre.com/music-catalog/satb-choral/nox-aurumque

Nox Aurumque

Gold,
Tarnished and dark,
Singing of night,
Singing of death,
Singing itself to sleep.
And an angel dreams of sunrise,
And war.

Tears of the ages.
O shield!
O gilded blade!
You are too heavy to carry,
Too heavy for flight.

Gold,
Tarnished and weary,
Awaken!
Melt from weapon to wing!
Let us soar again,
High above this wall;
Angels reborn and rejoicing with wings made
Of dawn,
Of gold,
Of dream.

Gold,
Singing of wings,
Singing of shadows.

Charles Anthony Silvestri, 1965-present

As you can see from these past examples, when Literature and Music intertwine, one can create worlds we can not imagine we could create, making the reader/audience forget about their reality and “abduct them” to the reality one creates when we are making music/reading/sharing a piece of literature. If only we took the chance to actually try and pursue this, just as our friend Eric and Charles, we can with “flying wings and soaring leap” create worlds that will forever stay… in our hearts… and minds.

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About theartofmusicalpoetry

I'm Jose Clavell, graduate student at Western Illinois University. Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico alumni. Choral Conductor, Spanish teacher writer, foodie, and a blogger.

Posted on October 11, 2011, in Choral Conducting, Choral Music, English Minor, Musical, Poetry/ Literature. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting triad. I agree with you in that the audience could be “abducted” by poetry coupled to music, however, this seems to be more complex than merely being led by the music or, by the poetry alone.
    Poetry is full of symbolism and without an appreciation of such character by the individual, I wonder if a fugue of sorts is even possible.
    In this context the more complex the literature the less likely the individual/audience would make a connection with the music and the less likely the composer would achieve the desired effect.

  2. The more complex the piece of literature the more complex the process of adding music to the literary piece. This is because the music has to be in perfect sync with the piece he/she chose. Here the program/director notes in the programs come into play. In the program you could add the poem/part of the literature where you can give some more insight into what the piece is all about.

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