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“Words Move, Music Moves”: An Examination of Musical Settings of the Poetry of T. S. Eliot


There are very few musical settings of the poetry of T. S. Eliot, considering his stature as one of the most influential and admired of twentieth century poets. Fewer still are the settings in that historically abundant genre of art song for voice and piano. This document will explore possible reasons for this seeming incongruity, as well as explore the approaches which the four composers who did set Eliot in this genre took interpretively and stylistically. In gathering information, the poetry and scores themselves were the most useful source, as well as historical and biographical literature on the poet’s and composers’ lives, and some of their peers. The main trouble with Eliot’s poetry seems to stem from the significant stylistic shift in the so-called Modernist period of English literature coinciding with the two World Wars. Poetry became vastly more dense and allusive, as well as grammatically and rhythmically more abstruse. At the conclusion of the document, an alternative stylistic method, employed by other composers during the late twentieth to early twenty-first centuries, will be suggested as a subtler way to give clarity of intent to a musical setting of Eliot’s poetry.

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