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- Creators: ASU Library. Music Library
Libby Larsen is one of the most performed and acclaimed composers today. She is a spirited, compelling, and sensitive composer whose music enhances the poetry of America's most prominent authors. Notable among her works are song cycles for soprano based on the poetry of female writers, among them novelist and poet Willa Cather (1873-1947). Larsen has produced two song cycles on works from Cather's substantial output of fiction: one based on Cather's short story, "Eric Hermannson's Soul," titled Margaret Songs: Three Songs from Willa Cather (1996); and later, My Antonia (2000), based on Cather's novel of the same title. In Margaret Songs, Cather's poetry and short stories--specifically the character of Margaret Elliot--combine with Larsen's unique compositional style to create a surprising collaboration. This study explores how Larsen in these songs delves into the emotional and psychological depths of Margaret's character, not fully formed by Cather. It is only through Larsen's music and Cather's poetry that Margaret's journey through self-discovery and love become fully realized. This song cycle is a glimpse through the eyes of two prominent female artists on the societal pressures placed upon Margaret's character, many of which still resonate with women in today's culture. This study examines the work Margaret Songs by discussing Willa Cather, her musical influences, and the conditions surrounding the writing of "Eric Hermannson's Soul." It looks also into Cather's influence on Libby Larsen and the commission leading to Margaret Songs. Finally, a description of the musical, dramatic, and textual content of the songs completes this interpretation of the interactions of Willa Cather, Libby Larsen, and the character of Margaret Elliot.
Arnold Schoenberg's 1908-09 song cycle, Das Buch der hängenden Gärten [The Book of the Hanging Gardens], opus 15, represents one of his most decisive early steps into the realm of musical modernism. In the midst of personal and artistic crises, Schoenberg set texts by Stefan George in a style he called "pantonality," and described his composition as radically new. Though stylistically progressive, however, Schoenberg's musical achievement had certain ideologically conservative roots: the composer numbered among turn-of-the-century Viennese artists and thinkers whose opposition to the conventional and the popular--in favor of artistic autonomy and creativity--concealed a reactionary misogyny. A critical reading of Hanging Gardens through the lens of gender reveals that Schoenberg, like many of his contemporaries, incorporated strong frauenfeindlich [anti-women] elements into his work, through his modernist account of artistic creativity, his choice of texts, and his musical settings. Although elements of Hanging Gardens' atonal music suggest that Schoenberg valued gendered-feminine principles in his compositional style, a closer analysis of the work's musical language shows an intact masculinist hegemony. Through his deployment of uncanny tonal reminiscences, underlying tonal gestures, and closed forms in Hanging Gardens, Schoenberg ensures that the feminine-associated "excesses" of atonality remain under masculine control. This study draws upon the critical musicology of Susan McClary while arguing that Schoenberg's music is socially contingent, affected by the gender biases of his social and literary milieux. It addresses likely influences on Schoenberg's worldview including the philosophy of Otto Weininger, Freudian psychoanalysis, and a complex web of personal relationships. Finally, this analysis highlights the relevance of Schoenberg's world and its constructions of gender to modern performance practice, and argues that performers must consider interrelated historical, textual, and musical factors when interpreting Hanging Gardens in new contexts.