Tutor: David Martin

Songs and Song Cycles

You all know, I hope, what a song is.  If not, you have a lot of ground to make up.  But what is a song cycle?  In its classic form it is a group of songs for voice and piano which develop a narrative.  As a rule, this narrative gives the point of view of one person whose thoughts and feelings are mirrored in the world around them.


The first master of this genre was Schubert, whose song cycles have been sometimes equalled, but never surpassed.  In this course we will listen to all of Schubert’s ‘Die Winterreise’ (The Winter Journey), a cycle lasting about an hour.  In it a young man is turned off by his beloved, and wanders through a winter landscape whose bleakness reflects his own inner distress.  In the end he meets a hurdy-gurdy man, an outcast like himself, and they make common cause.


I will also play a selection of songs from the last 400 years or so, including a song by Keith Sparrow of the WMA.  Ben Lunn will join me in presenting some 20th century songs, a field more familiar to him than it is to me.


To prepare for the course, you will be given three translations of songs from ‘Die Winterreise.’  Choose one of these and set it to music.  At the school we will compare this with Schubert’s setting of the German text, which is bound to be a humbling experience.  In your songs I will be looking at word-setting and accompaniments.


Word-setting is the art of catching in music the natural rhythms of the words.  To get an idea of these rhythms you need to say the words OUT LOUD, preferably in a resonant room.  You need to really LISTEN to these rhythms.  Accompaniments need to be more than a supporting run of chords.  They should join the voice in expressing the meaning of the words, an art of which Schubert was a master.  Do not be content with dull accompaniments; try for interesting ones.  If these are played without the singer, it should still be possible to get some idea of the emotions behind the words.

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