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Carl Sandburg's Timeless Prairie: Philip Wharton's Song Cycle, The Prairie Sings

Description: The connection of music and verse evident in the work of American poet, Carl Sandburg, is a topic that has received inadequate attention. Much preexisting research has focused on Sandburg's work with The American Songbag anthology; however little has been written about music composers' settings of his verse. The relevance of Sandburg's work as a poet has faded in today's society; the rural prairie subject matter and his poetic style are deemed archaic in an ever-evolving mechanistic society. Philip Wharton, a native of Sandburg's Midwest prairie, composes to create an evocative and image-laden world for the hearers of his music. This is what creates a semblance between both artists' works. This paper makes a connection between the work of the 20th century prairie poet and a current, 21st century American composer's musical setting of Sandburg's verse. Both artists are connected not only geographically, but also in their approach to an accessible art form for their audience. Negating current compositional trends and using text from Sandburg's poetry collections, Chicago Poems and Cornhuskers, Wharton melds the text into his evocative, imagistic musical language in his song cycle, The Prairie Sings. Using examples from the five movements of the cycle, I show the dependent relationship of verse and music. An in-depth analysis of the connection of poetry and music in each of the five movements of the cycle is contained in the paper. An additional connection in the dynamic interplay of the vocal line and piano accompaniment, the two "narrators" of the cycle, is also discussed. The resulting research points to an aspect of a creation of a regional American "sound, " reminiscent of trends of nationalism in the 19th and 20th century in art, literature and music.
Date: August 2008
Creator: Wunderlich, Kristen A.
Partner: UNT Libraries