Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)
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 Thomson’s 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 Thomson’s setting of Blake’s text to music, and a consideration of the vocal merits and difficulties of Thomson’s vocal writing into one helpful document. Chapter 1 presents a brief biographical portrait of the composer, with special emphasis on Thomson’s interest in William Blake, and addresses Thomson’s 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 Thomson’s 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.
Document Availability at the Time of Submission
Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.
Whitfield, Andrew David, "A performer's guide to Virgil Thomson's Five Songs from William Blake" (2004). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 1344.