Music, School of


Date of this Version

November 2006


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College of the University of Nebraska 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, Nebraska; December, 2006
Copyright 2006 Scott David Miller.


American composer Mark Adamo enjoyed tremendous success with his first two full-scale operatic works, Little Women, and Lysistrata. For both of these works, Adamo served not only as composer, but also as his own librettist. Originally eager to pursue a career as a composer of the Broadway musical, his background and training in playwriting, acting, and musical composition provide him with a unique and well informed perspective on the fundamentals of dramatic and musical form and function which is both simple and ingenious. His gift for setting language to music is extraordinary, and his knowledge of the human singing voice and its expressive capabilities is evidenced by the virtuosic, bel canto informed writing that he produces.

Upon seeing and hearing a performance of Adamo’s first opera Little Women, the author of this document was inspired to request a commission for a set of songs by Mr. Adamo. The result was the cycle or solo cantata Garland, music for tenor and piano set to the texts of four poems by Emily Dickinson on themes of death, the loss of a loved one, and the way in which one is either consoled or not by religion and its various agents.

Through the process of commissioning Garland, the author corresponded directly with Mr. Adamo; interviewed him about his craft including compositional style and process, harmonic language, form and function of melody, characteristics of a successful libretto, dodecaphony, role models, composing for genres outside of opera, and related topics.

Mr. Adamo provided the author with heretofore unavailable manuscripts of several unpublished “early” songs, a one scene opera, and a draft of the outline for Little Women.

This document discusses Adamo’s published and unpublished solo vocal works to date, including the operatic works, and solo songs. Discussion focuses on the composer’s own remarks and insights regarding the compositions, and his vocal style in particular. Special attention is given to the song cycle Garland, its genesis, performance notes, and its aesthetic relationship to the operatic works.

Adviser: Donna Harler-Smith

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