Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



Document Type

Major Paper


In 1979, Scottish-born composer Judith Weir wrote King Harald’s Saga for the soprano Jane Manning. Although an opera in three acts, the cast consists of one performer unaccompanied, interpreting various characters, including the protagonist, King Harald, two of his wives, and the entire Norwegian Army. The opera presented in its entirety is ten minutes in duration. The scope of this paper is intended to assist the performer as well as those who are interested in contemporary opera. I have provided a brief overview of Weir’s compositional style in opera, chamber opera and song. As King Harald’s Saga was Weir’s first opera, I have also observed ways in which it influenced these subsequent vocal works. After my interview with Weir, she provided two inspirations for King Harald’s Saga: Grand Opera of Verdi and Wagner, and Icelandic Saga. Although disparate in nature, further investigations in my analysis show many striking similarities. Both evoke a detached aesthetic stance, as in telling a story, and both are filled with grandiose characterizations. This analysis also discusses how the format of the literature influenced the format of the operatic structure. Background information regarding Icelandic Saga is provided to clarify the explanations and observations of the composer. In addition, I have also provided a thorough analysis of the musical score, including many musical examples to clarify my observations. As each character is given one movement or number in the score (except for Harald), the overall format of the analysis is organized by character. Issues of tonality are addressed with reference to the intentions of the composer, and information as to pitch center, meter, and vocal expression are derived solely from composer’s notes and the vocal line itself.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Robert Grayson

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