A Practical Approach to Donald Martino's Twelve-Tone Song Cycles: Three Songs and Two Rilke Songs, for Performance

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The performance of vocal works using the twelve-tone technique requires thorough study of complex rhythms, non-tonal melodies, non-traditional notations, and specific musical terms. They generally also require advanced and varied vocal techniques. Twelve-tone vocal works often contain unusual features vital to the composer's intention. One of the premiere twelve-tone composers in the United States, Donald Martino (1931-2005) composed only two solo vocal works using the twelve-tone technique: Three Songs (1955) and Two Rilke Songs (1961). He has explored innovative and progressive uses of the twelve-tone technique, and composed music with particular methods of his own, later used by other composers. ... continued below

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Yang, Yoon Joo. May 2011.

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  • Yang, Yoon Joo

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The performance of vocal works using the twelve-tone technique requires thorough study of complex rhythms, non-tonal melodies, non-traditional notations, and specific musical terms. They generally also require advanced and varied vocal techniques. Twelve-tone vocal works often contain unusual features vital to the composer's intention. One of the premiere twelve-tone composers in the United States, Donald Martino (1931-2005) composed only two solo vocal works using the twelve-tone technique: Three Songs (1955) and Two Rilke Songs (1961). He has explored innovative and progressive uses of the twelve-tone technique, and composed music with particular methods of his own, later used by other composers. Three Songs, his first twelve-tone work, and Two Rilke Songs, the only twelve-tone song cycle in his mature style, present comparable features in his use of the twelve-tone technique, text setting, and notations. The variety of ways in which Martino uses these features in the song cycles is discussed in the performance guide. The intention of the present study is to help performers, especially singers, understand Donald Martino's two twelve-tone song cycles, and to aid in the preparation of an excellent performance. The study includes a study of historical context, the poems, and Martino's compositional and aesthetic approaches to setting them. It also offers practical and systemized ways of analyzing and preparing Martino's songs for performance. It is hoped that the methods suggested herein will reduce a singer's difficulties and rehearsal time with the pianist. The present study will offer a valuable addition to the literature on the performance practice of twelve-tone vocal music, and provide insight and advice on how to practice and perform other non-tonal music. This method of study may be applied to other contemporary music. Doing so can in turn help develop a singer's skill in handling tonal and rhythmic difficulties of all kinds, including non-traditional notations.

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  • May 2011

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  • Jan. 10, 2012, 9:44 a.m.

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Yang, Yoon Joo. A Practical Approach to Donald Martino's Twelve-Tone Song Cycles: Three Songs and Two Rilke Songs, for Performance, dissertation, May 2011; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc68066/: accessed October 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .