Title page for ETD etd-05192004-122138

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Whitfield, Andrew David
Author's Email Address awhitf1@lsu.edu
URN etd-05192004-122138
Title A Performer's Guide to Virgil Thomson's "Five Songs from William Blake"
Degree Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.)
Department Music
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Kyle Marrero Committee Chair
Alison McFarland Committee Member
Patricia O'Neill Committee Member
Robert Grayson Committee Member
Kevin Bongiorni Dean's Representative
  • song cycle
  • Virgil Thomson
  • William Blake
  • baritone
Date of Defense 2004-03-22
Availability unrestricted
Though perhaps his most well-known vocal works might be his operas, Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All, American composer Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) did write nearly seventy songs for voice and piano, including several important song cycles. One of these cycles, the Five Songs from William Blake, represents an impressive composition for the baritone voice. Unfortunately, much of the previous scholarship about Thomson did not award these Blake songs adequate attention, nor was it able to draw upon many of the primary sources about Thomsonís life and work that are now available. The purpose of this study is to amend these omissions with a specific guide for performers, combining recent scholarship, an analysis of Thomsonís setting of Blakeís text to music, and a consideration of the vocal merits and difficulties of Thomsonís vocal writing into one helpful document.

Chapter 1 presents a brief biographical portrait of the composer, with special emphasis on Thomsonís interest in William Blake, and addresses Thomsonís theories about composing for the voice. Chapter 2 begins with a general introduction to the Five Songs from William Blake and a history of their critical reception. Then, this chapter undertakes a detailed examination of the pieces in order to assess Thomsonís specific musical and vocal choices in setting the text. The elements of this analysis include: meter/structure of the poem, meter/structure of the music, vocal range and tessitura, expressive markings, vocal challenges, and interpretive suggestions. Finally, this document presents a conclusion that considers Thomson's overall significance as a vocal composer and the relevance of the Five Songs from William Blake to this discussion.

In addition, the document includes two appendices. Appendix A contains the complete text of the five William Blake poems that Thomson chose to set to music. Appendix B provides a selected discography of the Five Songs from William Blake.

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