Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 September 2013
If lyric poetry is language made memorable by ordered patterning and rhythmic disposition, what happens when music is brought forcibly to bear on poetic words? What does music add, what does it subtract, how is the experience of language altered by musical tones and rhythms? Questions multiply in mid-air as one ponders the matter: what constitutes an invitation to musical setting in a poem? What makes some poems/poetic repertories attractive to composers, and what seems to exclude music? If music's linear progress through time destroys those experiences elicited by the sight of a formal structure on the printed page, the understandings born when we recognize enjambment and formal structure and line length, etc., can it compensate for such losses by means of harmonies, key relationships and the stuff of music? What happens when the singing voice semi-obliterates words with music's overtones and echoing resonance? What in a poem does the composer emphasize and what does he or she suppress and for what speculative reasons? What are the various factors in a composer's decisions about the metamorphosis of a poem into a song? Why are some superb composers so unsuccessful at song composition while others find in this genre their heart's métier? In the former category, Bruckner comes to mind, with his imposing symphonies and piffling songs, few in number for reasons that soon become obvious; happily, the latter category has numerous denizens. And on and on ….