Dialogues with the Past: Musical Settings of John Donne's Poetry

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Dialogues with the Past: Musical Settings of John Donne's Poetry

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Title: Dialogues with the Past: Musical Settings of John Donne's Poetry
Author: Cowell, Emma
Abstract: My thesis concerns artists who have addressed the topic of death by interacting with voices from the past. In my study I trace layers of thought that begin with the seventeenth-century poetry of John Donne. Donne's works are influenced by his struggles with faith and his paradoxical understanding of mortality. They display a combination of emotion and intellect characteristic of seventeenth-century Protestant religious devotion, and provide a starting point for artistic reaction from English composers of later eras, whose spiritual worldviews were more (or less) sympathetic to Donne's as a result of their changing cultural experience. Pelham Humfrey, a member of Charles II's Chapel Royal, set Donne's Hymne to God the Father to music after the Restoration. In Charles II's secular and cosmopolitan court, Donne's poem was both a voice from the past, representing a more religiously conservative era, and a parallel with the present, as a representation of Anglican devotion under English monarchy. Humfrey's setting explores archaism and contemporaneity through the combination of English lute song idioms with Italian solo madrigal and gestures from the seconda prattica. Benjamin Britten, British composer of the twentieth century, interacted both with Donne's Holy Sonnets and Humfrey's setting of Donne's Hymne to God the Father. For Britten, Donne's voice represented a more religious English past, combined with a tortured expression of spiritual searching that paralleled Britten's religious experiences in an increasingly post-Christian era. Britten's Holy Sonnets of John Donne, and his realization of Humfrey's setting of Hymne to God the Father, apply Donne's work to the subjects of the Holocaust and personal mortality, respectively, creating narratives of mourning that utilizes archaic Baroque idioms in the context of the contemporary song cycle.
Description: viii, 126 leaves : ill., music ; 29 cm.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1989/10517
Date: 2012

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