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A Bluebonnet - Art Song for Voice and Piano


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"A Bluebonnet"

Art Song for Voice and Piano

Composed:  March 22, 2020 at Austin

Poem by Jackie Dilworth (used with permission)

Recording:  MP3 of electronic rendering by Finale Human Playback through NotePerformer 3.

Greetings!  Just dropping in once again to share something recent of mine that falls outside my usual Classical style - Modern Tonal I suppose you might call it, for lack of a better term. 

I happened to mention on Facebook back in March that the bluebonnets (a wildflower native to Texas) were in bloom here in Austin, where I now live - an event eagerly anticipated in Texas every year, not only for their ephemeral beauty, but because their appearance is one of the first signs of the arrival of spring.  My friend Jackie Dilworth responded to my post, mentioning that she had written a poem about bluebonnets, which I then asked her to share with me.  Upon receiving it I read through it, and moved by its simplicity and unassuming loveliness - much like the flower for which it named - I was almost immediately inspired to set it to music, which I did in a single sitting.  The text of the poem follows below.  

"A Bluebonnet" by Jackie Dilworth

A bluebonnet is a flower from Texas
Bright, brilliant, violet blue in colour
Growing on the prairie:
Waking and rising in spring
Under the bright sun in summer
Bathed in rain all the autumn,
Resting under the shade of winter.
Far away from the Scotch Thistle and Cactus,
Joshua Tree, Elm, and Sagebrush
Of the desert high and far
Who thirst and long for water and life.
Bluebonnets gently sway
In warm breezes from the Gulf
Where Rio Grande goes to its end
In another time and place
In the future and far away.

bluebonnets.jpg.0042e0056ecb0945caf8304175107dbe.jpg

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Very nice! This is a lovely piece with plenty of inherent drama and melody to interest the performer. A few notes:

  • The low C in m. 9 is a little inhospitable to tenors. It's usually their lowest note and, as such, very difficult to project. When composers write it (if they write it at all), they usually clear away the accompaniment to ensure that the note is audible (see, for example, Riccardo's canzone in Un Ballo in Maschera). Of course, this is a song for "high voice," not necessarily tenor, so it's less of an issue. And some tenors have a perfectly audible low C anyway. But like an exceptionally high note, it does limit the number of people who can sing this.
  • The climax leading up to m. 38 is quite effective, heightened by the many suspensions. But in m. 38, to get the full effect of the cadence, I think I would prefer to remain on C-minor for the first two beats of the measure rather than raising the third on the second beat. The mood changes a little too rapidly for my tastes.
  • In m. 52, I would maintain the triplet rhythm throughout the whole bar (at least in the RH). The shift back into duple time sounds too abrupt coming in the middle of the measure, as it does.

That's all. Thanks for sharing!

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Hello again,

I really like this piece. I feel sometimes there could be a little more "space' in the vocal line, with more rests between lines of the poem. I feel this would help the music breathe more and emphasise the beautiful melody.

I would have liked to see more variety in the piano part during the verses, such as Bars 3-11 and 25-31. The piano could be used to add another layer of sound, perhaps a countermelody. 

At Bar 43, I think you could leave the slower tempo a little bit longer and gradually accelerate over the next few bars. (Just a thought, it is also perfectly fine as it is.)

Fantastic work!

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Thanks very much for the feedback y'all!  

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The low C in m. 9 is a little inhospitable to tenors. It's usually their lowest note and, as such, very difficult to project. When composers write it (if they write it at all), they usually clear away the accompaniment to ensure that the note is audible (see, for example, Riccardo's canzone in Un Ballo in Maschera). Of course, this is a song for "high voice," not necessarily tenor, so it's less of an issue. And some tenors have a perfectly audible low C anyway. But like an exceptionally high note, it does limit the number of people who can sing this.

I understand very well what you're saying, and I've worked with a few tenors who find it a challenge to make much sound down there; but I'm a tenor myself, and that low C doesn't worry me much.  More tenors have it than don't, it's not held long here, it's on a weak syllable, and the accompaniment should still be rather soft if the pianist is doing as I directed.  I'm confident that in most readings it will turn out fine. 

Incidentally, what is usually meant by "High Voice" in this kind of context is either soprano or tenor, so this song could conceivably be sung by either.  One sees either "High Voice" or "Low Voice" (mezzo-soprano/alto or baritone/bass) all the time in published editions of art songs and the like, often with an indication as to whether the edition is in the original key, or has been transposed to suit the voice type specified.  My personal feeling has always been that if I can't sing a song in its original key, then it's not meant for me to sing, for I believe that each individual key has its own character, and transposing a song from the key the composer intended just to suit a certain type of voice significantly changes the feeling of the piece.  This is especially true when historical temperaments are in use for tuning instead of modern even temperament, but I'd best not go off on that rather involved tangent.  😉     

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In m. 52, I would maintain the triplet rhythm throughout the whole bar (at least in the RH). The shift back into duple time sounds too abrupt coming in the middle of the measure, as it does.

That might be a better idea.  I'll consider it.  

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I would have liked to see more variety in the piano part during the verses, such as Bars 3-11 and 25-31. The piano could be used to add another layer of sound, perhaps a countermelody.  

I rather wanted to keep things simple at first, as I felt simplicity suited the character of the poem best, and at 25-31 the texture is already full, and it wouldn't do to make it fuller.  However, the recapitulation might be a good place to do something different, like interpolate a countermelody, or something else of that nature.  I'll think about that.

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At Bar 43, I think you could leave the slower tempo a little bit longer and gradually accelerate over the next few bars. (Just a thought, it is also perfectly fine as it is.) 

Now that you mention it, that's probably exactly what a pianist would be tempted to do there.  I might play around with that idea a bit and see if it's more effective.

Thank you both again!  🙂        

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That's a very nice work. I like the melody and the accompaniment eighth notes' motive repeated all through the piece. Also the contrasting section with the change of texture on the piano figures to triplets works nicely. Formweise it reminds me of a romantic Lied. 

Good job!

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