Words and Music: A Lecture Delivered in the Whittall Pavilion of the Library of Congress, December 10, 1953

Words and Music: A Lecture Delivered in the Whittall Pavilion of the Library of Congress, December 10, 1953

Words and Music: A Lecture Delivered in the Whittall Pavilion of the Library of Congress, December 10, 1953

Words and Music: A Lecture Delivered in the Whittall Pavilion of the Library of Congress, December 10, 1953

Excerpt

THE MOST direct conveyance of the meaning and the sentiment contained in words is through speech delivered with appropriate inflection; but when words are imaginatively propulsive--and only then is it likely that save in exceptional cases they will prove incitements to the composer--the step from speech to song is a relatively short one. A text will supply meanings and a physical framework for the support of the music. Music, in its turn, will transfigure plain meanings and clothe the verbal substance with a kind of incandescence that words by themselves cannot achieve. These two appear to have been destined for one another from the beginning and their generally happy union is sanctified by long usage. If fancifully viewed this collaboration may, indeed, be compared with almost any human partnership; the basic difference between life and art in this case being that in the former, freedom of choice prevails, while in the world of art the composer selects the partners, writes the contract, and dictates the nature of the relationship.

Inasmuch as it is the composer who decrees the union, it will be his responsibility to deal equitably with both members, determining the relative amount of emphasis to be laid on words or music as the situation may require. There will be occasions when it will be advisable to relegate the text to a subordinate position, while at other times the words, because of their significance, will demand precedence over the music. Although his interest will, naturally, be focused on his own contribution, the composer must not, as so many appear to do, regard the text merely as a convenient clothes- horse, a display rack over which he may effectively drape his music; the text must be for him the animating source of his whole creation and he must be constantly intent on mirroring every shade of meaning and emotion resident in the words. Devotees of the clotheshorse . . .

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