Featured Post


I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Monday, August 7, 2023

A rubric

 How to listen to musical adaptation: a rubric of a sort 


1.     Read and analyze the original text. Make note of its speaking voice, its prosody. Its relation to previously existing lyrical and musical traditions. For example, its division into strophes might reflect the common practice of singing multiple stanzas to the same tune. Is it a lyric poem, in the sense of a poem meant to be set to music? Or is it perhaps a lyric poem in the other sense: a short poem expressing the sentiments of a single speaker? How “singable” is the text? 

2.     Listen to the song to transcribe the lyrics. Is the setting of a translation or an original text? Is the text complete or fragmented, altered or integral? Are parts of the text repeated? Or is more than one original text included, as in a medley? 

3.     Now listen to the song again. Make note of its musical genre. The instrumentation. What vocal techniques is the singer using? Is there a historical connection between the musical genre being used and the style of the song? If not, how do we justify the particular choice of musical idiom? (If justification is needed: can Lorca be a country song? Why or why not?) 

4.     Now analyze the song in terms of its prosody in the second sense: the way the rhythm, the division between phrases, and the melodic movement correspond (or doesn’t) to the prosody of the original text. How does the setting treat enjambment? Other kinds of pauses? Does the setting feel “natural” or “forced,” with a kind of overt distortion of the text? Can the words be understood easily?  

5.     Now interpret the setting as an interpretation of the poem. What elements of the music select or reinforce particular meanings already present in the text? Is there some possible lack of concordance between the poem and the musical setting? For example, what if the poem in and of itself seems to convey a sense of calm, but the music sounds agitated instead? 

6.     Now go back to the composer and or performer of the work. What motivates the choice of text? What other texts have been set in a similar fashion by the same composer? What other composers have set the same poet (or the same poem) to music? Comparisons might be in order. Situate the process of musical setting of this poet in its historical context. 

7.     Go back over the questions. Which produce the most fruitful, the most productive answers? What are the best ideas you have generated? How can they be linked together to produce a meaningful analysis? You can always evaluate the setting, say whether it is good or bad, or whether you like it or not, but the point is not to give it a grade, but to understand the complexity of the process. 

8.     Now write a paper using questions 1-7, comparing two or three musical settings that have a particular point of comparison: the same poem or poet, the same composer or performer, the same musical idiom in the same era…