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Choral Writing


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I am currently working on a piece for choir and orchestra. As might be expected, this sets a text (three different poems to be precise). I am just curious as to what approach people take when setting a text to music, with regard to how this influences various elements in the composition. Do you, in general, subordinate the purely musical elements (melody, harmony, structure, use of motifs, etc) to the text - allowing its meaning, or its speech-rhythms, or other similar features, to dictate everything -, or do you prefer to write in an more 'abstract' way (i.e. giving priority to the purely musical features listed above) and fit the text around a more non-vocal conception of the work?

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I prefer a logic connection between text and music. They are to enforce each other and co-operate. Setting text to music adds meaning to the music, whereas by instrumental music this is not necessarily (and imho preferably not) the case. Maybe it is my organist background that I hold this possibly old-fashioned view, but I think if you choose to set text, the music should accompany and carry the meaning.

At first I let the text dictate some features, like rhythm; the internal structure of the poem guides the structure of the music, etc.

Then, on the fly things can happen, recapitulation of motives, and new insights on the text, that sort of loosen the initial connection between text and music. When music distorts the natural flow of the text, that works best interpretation of the text lends to that view, irony or detachment, for example. But then again, the text causes you to distort the relation between text and music.

my 2ct.

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