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The Poet & I: Music to the Words of Hermann Hesse

Michael Thomas Kraft, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


“The Poet & I: Music to the Words of Hermann Hesse” is a suite consisting of eight musical adaptions of Hermann Hesse poems. Hesse was the renowned twentieth-century German author and Nobel Prize winner. I selected and/or commissioned English translations that specifically resonated with me. Each individual movement represents an auto-biographical glimpse into my life during a period of loss and contemplation. The eight poems include: “In the Mists,” “When Falling Asleep,” “Lying in Grass,” “Lament,” “Stages,” “Truncated Oak,” “Hold Me by the Hand,” and “Happiness.” The suite was composed for jazz piano trio featuring a female vocalist. All members should be comfortable improvising. Some of the improvisations require familiarity expanding upon melodic fragments or improvising within the confines of specific instructions, techniques often associated with free and contemporary jazz. Great attention was given to the rhyme scheme in each translation. This, referred to as “singable text,” allowed me to create symmetry using intervals, consonance and dissonance, harmony/chords, dynamics and form. Other equally important compositional considerations included the use or avoidance of repetition, and where and when to incorporate improvisation. My focus was heavily on composing music that reflected the literal meaning of Hesse’s text. Repetition does not appear in the selected poems. As a result, there is minimal use of repetition in the eight compositions. I also avoided using traditional song forms in the program. This resulted in what I refer to as a “flow,” as it relates to Eastern philosophy. Another distinguishing feature of the compositions is the use of non-traditional harmony together with functional harmony, which resulted from giving consonance and dissonance at key points throughout the poems more significance than harmonic movement. Improvisation was primarily used to provide a brief pause before the arrival of new material, or where I felt it best enhanced the text. It is, however, an essential part of the compositions.

Subject Area

Musical composition|Performing Arts

Recommended Citation

Kraft, Michael Thomas, "The Poet & I: Music to the Words of Hermann Hesse" (2022). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI29166416.