[Smt-talk] "Bad" Text Settings Update

Justin London jlondon at carleton.edu
Mon Aug 25 05:51:16 PDT 2014

Dear All . . .

First, thanks very much for your enthusiastic responses thus far.  Few subject lines provoke such a response as a call for “bad” music.

The front runners thus far are Handel, Stravinsky, and Alanis Morisette.  Though whethere their mis-matches between musical and poetic scansion are due to indifference, insouciance, or incompetence is an open question in many cases.  Moreover, it clearly makes a difference whether the text being set is poetic (having rhyme and a pattern of scansion) or prosaic; in the latter case, the mis-matches are less acute, sometimes to the point of not being mismatches at all.  Just as muscial rhythms can be metrically malleable, so too can prose.

I have placed a copy of an excel spreadsheet on my webpage, which contains notes and weblinks (http://www.people.carleton.edu/~jlondon/); I will continue to update it as more nominantions come in—please keep them coming(!).  You may notice that there entries from classical music and art song (Handel, Schubert, Poulenc, Stravinsky) as well as pop music (James Taylor, Morisette, Toto).  

As I wil be using some of these examples in a 1st year seminar for non-music majors, I will probably stick to examples from popular music.  Likewise, as a few folks have already noted, translations have problems of their own, especially if the mismatch occurs in something other than the composer’s native language. And we do well to heed Kenneth Morrison’s reminder about different musical/cultural contexts giving rise to different sensee of accent in the text, and sensibilities regarding accentual alignment in its musical setting.  

And finally, for sheer kitsch value, I think the front runner is the official Florida state song, “Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky” (Thank you, Nancy Rodgers).  

With thanks,

Justin London
Professor of Music (and other stuff), Carleton College
Department of Music
One North College St.
Northfield, MN 55057 USA
+1 507-222-4397

Affiliated Researcher, Centre for Music and Science, University of Cambridge
Visiting Professor (2014), University of Jyväskylä, Finland
jlondon at carleton.edu

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