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Music and Literature

Music and Literature series on Performance Today Great writers, composers, and performers have inspired and enriched one another through their masterworks for centuries, as they do to this day. This week, Performance Today explores this perennial love affair with recent performances from around the country and the world. You'll hear the insights of composers, performers, and writers who find language-music connections especially compelling: composers who set vocal music to poetry and other written forms, acclaimed performers who also write, and writers whose work incorporates vivid slices of musical experience. Great music drawn from this rich tradition—from early times to the present—illuminates each facet of the week's offerings.

Susan Graham on Performance Today

Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham
"Every time I open my mouth to sing something... I want to feel like I'm making those words up right then and right there." Susan Graham says singers are equal parts musician and language interpreter. Listen to her complete interview on the art of making a poet's words her own.

Thomas Quasthoff on Performance Today

The art of song
Fred Child talks to singer Thomas Quasthoff about how the baritone adds color and character to his performance of art songs.

Rob Kapilow on Performance Today

Words inspiring music
Musical commentator and composer Rob Kapilow connects "Spring" from Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" to the sonnet that inspired the music.

Rob Kapilow continues his conversation with another great piece inspired line for line by a poem - "Transfigured Night" by Arnold Schoenberg.

Dominick Argento on Performance Today

Dominick Argento, composer
Dominick Argento is a prominent composer who has written many pieces for voice and choir. But where most composers tend to set poetry or fictional prose to music, Argento prefers to set the language of non-fiction, memoirs and even diary entries to music. Listen as Argento describes how he gets to the heart of the matter.

J.D. McClatchy on Performance Today

J.D. McClatchy, poet and librettist
Poet J.D. McClatchy hadn't planned on entering the world of opera until 1987 when composer William Schuman asked him to write the words for his short opera "The Mighty Casey." Since then he's written eleven libretti for operas on top his flourishing literary career. Listen to his conversation with Fred Child about successes and compromises of marrying poetry to music.

Stephen Hough on Performance Today

Stephen Hough, pianist and poet
Almost on a whim one evening, pianist Stephen Hough decided to submit one of his poems to a poetry contest. He forgot about it and went on concertizing around the world until he got a strange phone call: His poem "Early Rose" had won the First Writer competition. Click to listen to Hough how one art form informs another.

Remebering Icarus on Performance Today

Remembering Icarus
Composer Bill McGlaughlin was inspired by the Grecian myth of Icarus to write a piece honoring a radio pioneer. Listen to McGlaughlin describe how the elements of the myth appear in the music: the rise, discovery of the sublime and finally the tragic fall.

Eugene Drucker on Performance Today

The Savior: A novel by Eugene Drucker
Eugene Drucker is usually introduced as the violinist of the Emerson String Quartet, but recently he's also become an author. His novel is called The Savior and it tells the story of Gottfried Keller, a violinist forced to perform for audiences in concentration camps in WWII-era Germany. The experience haunts his conscience. Listen to Drucker read en excerpt from his novel.

Bill Holm on Performance Today

Bill Holm, poet and pianist
Bill Holm was recently named a 2008 Distinguished Artist by the McKnight Foundation for his poetry and essays. In his spare time, however, Holm is a accomplished pianist. In fact, much of his writing is about music. Click to listen to Holm read a poem about Franz Liszt and then listen to the complete conversation with Fred Child.
Poem about Liszt

Matt Haimovitz on Performance Today

Cellist Matt Haimovitz
Listen to cellist Matt Haimovitz talk about the relationship between words and music, and play movements from After Reading Shakespeare by Ned Rorem. Each movement is inspired by character from a Shakespeare play or by specific lines from his sonnets.
Caliban, from The Tempest, Act I, Scene 2
Why Hear'st Thou Music Sadly? Sonnet 8
Remembrance Of Things Past Sonnet 30

Ned Rorem on Performance Today

Composer Ned Rorem
Ned Rorem is a great champion of the art song, setting a beautiful poem to music. Rorem says that it is the music that gives the words meaning, not the other way around. To illustrate his point, Rorem has written multiple, contrasting musical settings for the same poem. He talks with Fred Child the meaning of music.

Our Town on Performance Today

Our Town: A New Opera
Composer Ned Rorem and librettist J.D. McClatchy worked together to adapt Thornton Wilder's play Our Town to the operatic stage. Though Rorem and McClatchy have different approaches to fitting a play to music, the result quite powerful. Listen to McClatchy and Rorem discuss the opera and the meaning of words and music, with excerpts from a recent production of the Opera at Juilliard.

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