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.
Gustav Mahler – Rückert-Lieder
(Poetry – Friedrich Rückert)
Mahler set four of Rückert’s poems in 1901. The last movement was finished a year later. The songs were published as a set in 1910. Although the songs were not conceived of as a cycle, they’re often performed that way.Friedrich Ruckert (1788-1866) was a popular poet for German composers. Schumann, Zemlinsky, Wolf, and Strauss also set his poems to music.
Pierre Boulez – Le Marteau sans maître
(Le Marteau sans maître – René Char)
Boulez’s landmark work was based on poems from René Char’s 1930 Le Marteau sans maître. The elliptical imagery of the poems (“the pendulum throws its instinctive load of granite”) is matched by the music. Boulez’ multi-layered serialism created a work that only begins to reveal itself after multiple hearings.
Aaron Copland – Eight Poems by Emily Dickenson
(Poetry by Emily Dickenson)
Copland wrote his song cycle “Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson” in 1950. It was for voice and piano. In 1955, he orchestrated eight of the settings. Copland was careful to follow the rhythm of Dickinson’s rhymes, letting the structure of each poem determines the direction of the music.
Claudio Monteverdi – Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
(Gerusalemme Liberata – Torquato Tasso)
Torquato Tasso was one of the most important Italian poets of the Renaissance. His 1574 poem Gerusalemme liberata would inspire composers for the next three centuries. One of the earliest adaptors of Tasso’s poem was Claudio Monteverdi. He set a climactic scene from the poem in 1624.
John Adams – The Wound-Dresser
(The Wound-Dresser – Walt Whitman)
Walt Whitman wrote “The Wound-Dresser” in 1865. The imagery comes from the time Whitman spent as a volunteer corpsman for the Union Army. Adams finished his setting of this poem in 1989.