Dulce et Decorum Est
From the beginning, this was intended to be a work for chorus and orchestra with a text suitable to some current events, particularly the recent war and new age we live in since September 11, 2001. As a child of a Vietnam veteran suffering from extreme psychological consequences of that war, I have first hand experiences of the effects war has on those involved and their loved ones. Much research led to the discovery of the poem Dulce et decorum est by the prominent poet-soldier of WWI, Wilfred Owen. An original goal for the piece is to portray war as timeless which explains the inclusion of three letters written during different wars throughout the twentieth century. The music is continuous. Tenor, soprano and baritone solos interrupt the verses of the poem with the wartime letters. The initial metrically ambiguous music at the beginning is to set the somber tone of the work and portray the notion that this could be any war in any time. The recurring descending line is introduced. The chorus enters with the first verse of the poem which has yet to reach the vileness of the later stanzas. What follows is an orchestral interlude in the form of a relentless march and battling pulses of two and three. After a brief transition, the tenor sings the letter of a soldier injured during WWII to his mother. The letter is deceptively hopeful about the nature of his injuries and the chorus abruptly and violently enters with the second verse of the poem describing a gas attack. Chromaticism increases by the end of this verse and an interlude sets the mood for the second letter. This letter, written after the attack on Pearl Harbor, is filled with desperate longing and fear for the future. Any hopefulness by the soprano's final notes is dashed by the third stanza of the poem describing a violent death. The work's climax is reached when the chorus sings the Latin "Dulce et decorum est" in a musical language similar to the beginning of the work. But the baritone has already entered with the last letter from a Vietnam soldier angry and bitter over shooting a girl holding a grenade. The position of the last letter intensifies the relentless horror of war by evading the expected post-climactic resolution of the conflict and the work ends with a return of the music from the beginning. The baritone's final lines are set to the descending pentachord. The emotional impact of the texts used is paramount. Consistent rhythmic motives and simple melodic shapes that rarely stray outside the initial pentachord aid in the comprehensibility of the text. Owen's ironic use of the latin ode, which translates similarly to "It is sweet and honorable to die for your country," ties perfectly with the anguish in each letter by emphasizing how war's effects reach beyond the superficial reasons people wage conflict with one another.
Choral, Vocal Soloists, Original Composition, Orchestral
March 23, 2004.
A Dissertation submitted to the School of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Music.
Includes bibliographical references.
Ladislav Kubik, Professor Directing Dissertation; André Thomas, Outside Committee Member; Peter Spencer, Committee Member; Mark Wingate, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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