Music, School of

 

Date of this Version

April 2008

Comments

A DOCTORAL DOCUMENT Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate College at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Musical Arts. Major: Music. Under the Supervision of Professor Donna Harler-Smith.
Lincoln, NE: April 2008.
Copyright (c) 2008 Jamie Reimer.

Abstract

Tearless, Op. 9
Silver Rain, Op. 11
Desire, Op. 13
Heart On The Wall, Op. 14
Border Line, Op .24
Mortal Storm, Op. 29


Composer Robert Owens (b. 1925) is relatively unknown in the realm of American art song. Though a few of Owens’ songs have been published in two anthologies of songs by African-American composers, the majority of the Langston Hughes songs by Robert Owens are undiscovered gems in the art song repertory. It is the author’s hope that through the presentation of this research, singers and teachers are inspired to explore Owens’ catalog of works and to find the essential commitment to poetry that is so necessary in the performance of all art songs.

Trained as a concert pianist, Owens has spent his life creating innovative, intelligent and beautiful pieces of music which are widely heard in Europe, particularly in his current country of residence, Germany, though they were written for performance by American singers. In 1958, Owens was introduced to the writer Langston Hughes at Hughes’ home in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. At that meeting, Hughes presented Owens with Fields of Wonder, a collection of his lyrical poetry, to set to music and “see what he could do with it.”

The results of Owens’ diligence are 46 songs in six cycles to the poems of Langston Hughes. In this document, the author will demonstrate how Owens created a unique musical atmosphere through his use of intervallic relationships, accompaniment figures and harmonic development. Of special interest is Owens’ compositional process that blossoms out of an understanding of the poem and its musical “environment,” and how he translates that understanding into sound.

The document includes a biography of Robert Owens, as told by the composer himself in interviews with the author. Currently, only brief biographical sketches are available in online and published sources. This information will be significant to any student or performer of Owens’ songs, as the details of his life figure prominently in his compositional purpose and process.

Advisor: Donna Harler-Smith

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