An introduction to Arthur Bliss's solo vocal works: an interpretive approach
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Even if Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) is well-known for his symphonies and string works, he never stopped composing vocal compositions throughout his career, leaving us with over sixty works. Until recently, however, performers and scholars have rarely felt drawn to Bliss's vocal works as standard contemporary repertoire. Very few recordings of Bliss's solo vocal works and even less discourse regarding his song output have also limited our awareness of his vocal composition. Through an examination of the composer's musical style and compositional process, we intend now to approach his solo vocal works and to reevaluate his proper place in the musical world of his time. Born in London to an American father and an English mother, Arthur Bliss was among the foremost English composers and conductors of the twentieth century. His positions included Master of the Queen's Music, which he inherited from Sir Arnold Bax, and musical director at the BBC. He was a pupil of Charles Stanford and a contemporary of Benjamin Britten, Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. One of the goals of this project is to introduce the solo songs of Arthur Bliss- and to encourage greater interest in them- by elaborating on the context of his vocal style. His biographical and musical background will be highlighted in order to grasp a deeper understanding of his life, music, and his musical influences, and to trace the stylistic evolution of his vocal works. Finally, I will conclude with his last song cycle Angels ofthe mind for soprano and piano, consisting of seven songs, which represent his mature style as a song composer. Brief theoretical analysis is presented along with its comprehensive stylistic analysis in an attempt to interpret various formal and musical perspectives. This work will demonstrate how these aspects are supported through theoretical approaches and interpretation of poetry. It also will provide detailed information, allowing it to serve as representational examples of his numerous compositional techniques. It is hoped that this study of his songs will help performers understand his music and the intentions of the composer, in order to achieve a fully musical interpretation, and that the musical analysis presented here will be of some value to them in their performance of his songs.
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