It is that anxious time for me once again as I am beginning the setting of a new poem, Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee". Even with a general idea of what I want to do, I really have no idea of whether what I am writing will work until I get into the piece. The first thing I considered before writing a note was the relationship of this poem to the others in the set. I wanted a contrast to begin the poem that would set it off from poem 2. Since poem 2 was in 6/8 and 9/8, I didn't want to use a tripple meter again, so I considered 5/8 and 7/8 but the words of "Annabel Lee" kept falling into a 6/8 pattern and the tempo was similar to poem 2 as well. The idea I was hearing to start this poem was cascading 4ths in the flute. So I notated that idea and realized that even though the tempo and meter were similar to poem 2, the mood is entirely different. What developed out of the opening flute idea was a light and playful contrapuntal setting of verse 1 for flute, clarinet and voice. The fact that I did not use the piano also gave it the contrast that I was looking for.
I find it interesting that the music can suggest an interpretation that is not present by the words themselves. "Annabel Lee" is a Romantic poem and in keeping with many of the arts of the Romantic Period, there is a preoccupation with death. The first two poems have this as well. But death is not always gloomy. In Whitman's "Oh Captain! My Captain!" death is both a personal loss and at the same time a heroic death. In Wilcox's "Solitude", death is used as an analogy for loneliness. In "Annabel Lee", death is a symbol of true love. To me, the poem begins with a childlike love that blossoms into a very deep and true love. It is this childlike love that is suggested by the music in the opening cascading 4ths of the flute, the hemiola two 16th and 8th figure that appears in both the flute and clarinet, the staccato articulation, and the imitation between parts.
It is nice to know that my original idea is working. I think a lot of my composing goes on at a subconcious level and it is not until I actually sit down and write that the subconscious ideas emerge. I am also very grateful to technology. No matter how much I have tried, I am a poor pianist. Before technological advances, I would find the sounds I wanted at the keyboard, but could only hear the piece in my head because I could not play what I wrote. Now I have the luxury of the computer playing back what I wrote in real time and it is easier for me to move forward at a more rapid pace.
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