What’s the connection between classical music and classic poetry? That was theme some of us decided to explore with #ClassicsaDay. For April 2018 we posted examples of settings of poetry in classical music, works inspired by poetry, and more. Here’s an annotated list of the works I posted for the first week of #PoetryMonth.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor – Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast
(Song of Hiawatha – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
The 1898 cantata “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast” was Coleridge-Taylor’s most popular work. He wrote two additional cantatas based on Longfellow’s poem, “The Death of Minnehaha” (1899) and “Hiawatha’s Departure” (1900). Coleridge-Taylor also composed a concert overture for the cantata cycle. All four parts were published as “The Song of Hiawatha” Op. 30.
Ralph Vaughn Williams – On Wenlock Edge
(A Shropshire Lad – Alfred Edward Housman)
Houseman’s 1896 volume “A Shropshire Lad” features 63 poems. Vaughan Williams was but one of many British composers to set Houseman’s poems to music. “On Wenlock Edge” consists of six poems from the collection. The work was originally composed for tenor, piano and string quartet in 1909.
Franz Schubert – Der Erlkönig, D.328
(Erlkönig – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
Gothe originally wrote this 1782 poem for a Singspiel. Although Schuber’s 1815 lied is the best-known, it’s not alone. Many composers of the early Romantic era also set the poem to music.
Franz Liszt – Après une Lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata
(The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri)
The final version of the “Dante” Sonata was first published in 1858. The much shorter original was composed in the late 1830s. The sonata presents thematic impressions of Dante’s Inferno, including extensive use of the tritone (the “devil’s interval”). Liszt also composed a Dante Symphony around the same time, based on the “Inferno” and “Purgatorio.”
Claude Debussy – L’après-midi d’un faune
(L’après-midi d’un faune – Stéphane Mallarmé)
The symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé was a favorite of French impressionist composers. Ravel, Debussy, and Milhaud set his poems to music.