National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version


Document Type



Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity, Vol. I, pp 130-152.


Copyright 2016 by the author.


Adaptation is a relatively new yet growing academic field consisting mainly of research on the modification of book into film. This study endeavors to expand the discourse on adaptation to the modal transformation of literary works to music. By using this specific adaptive type to examine the process and functionality of adapted works, I was able to address several key aspects of modern adaptation, including the hot-button issue of fidelity to an established source text, the role of adaptor as co-author, and the ability of solitary artistic modes to augment each other when combined. The resulting personal attempts at adaptation of a short poem to an accompanied vocal composition and an unaccompanied choral work were accomplished by the practical application of adaptive theory presented in several documents on the strategies behind the adaptive process. In using an experience-based approach, this study provides a hands-on look at the complex processes involved in adaptation and contributes to the growing body of adaptation research.

This venture came about as a result of the marriage of my two academic passions: music and literature. The initial idea surrounding the project was to study modern adaptive practice through several articles on the modification of book into film as well as Julie Sanders’ in-depth study of musical adaptations of the works of William Shakespeare, Shakespeare and Music: Afterlives and Borrowings. I began by engaging myself in the discourse of adaptation by composing responses to each article I read: Dudley Andrew’s “Adaptation,” “The Ethics of Infidelity” by Thomas Leitch, “Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation” by Robert Stam, and Glenn Jellenik’s “Quiet, Music at Work: The Soundtrack and Adaptation.” Thoroughly immersed in the ideas and terminology surrounding modern adaptation, I then turned to Sanders’ book. My goals were to obtain a solid understanding of the many and varied musical settings of the timeless works of Shakespeare and then to take a more focused look at a single foray into a musical adaptation of one of the Bard’s works. My concentration landed on Romantic composer Johannes Brahms’ Ophelia Lieder, a German song cycle composed of five, short unaccompanied songs to be used in practical performances of Hamlet. I comprehensively examined Brahms’ illustration of the madness of Ophelia through musical techniques as well as his role as adaptive co-author to Shakespeare. Acquiring comprehension of the general thoughts and concepts surrounding adaptation and then delving into one particular transformation of written word into melody contributed greatly to my overall understanding of the process by which one mode is turned into another.

However, I did not merely wish to analyze how adaptation is done; I wanted to put my money where my mouth was, so to speak, and apply what I had learned of the theory into practice by adapting a piece of literature myself. Though adaptation is a recently developed field of study and little has been written on the subject of transforming literary works into music in favor of book to film modal examinations, the discourse on the subject that has already been established provided me with a solid foundation of concepts and ideologies with which to rework my chosen source text into a musical setting. Building on this experience, I then took the adaptive process a step further by arranging a choral work based on the solo composition; in essence, I adapted my own adaptation.

These two in-depth examinations of the hands-on experience of adapting provide an unprecedented look into the modal transformation of literature to music. Furthermore, the experiential approach to adaptation this study employs expands upon the growing body of discourse associated with adaptation in a different and compelling way. As adaptation between virtually all modes becomes more prevalent in our society and culture, studies will no doubt move into the limelight of the discipline. In response to the burgeoning growth of the subject, this study aims to build upon previous adaptive research while simultaneously providing a basis for future investigation into this new and exciting field.