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The preeminence of Langston Hughes as a seminal figure in twentieth century literature is a well-chronicled phenomenon in academic circles. What has not been researched in a comprehensive fashion is Hughes' importance to both popular and classical genres of American music. This treatise lays the foundation for that research by first chronicling Hughes' contribution to American music as a songwriter, playwright, and opera librettist and then examining how his poetic aesthetic is captured in American art song. It is the aim of this treatise to examine the various themes prevalent in the body of Hughes' poetry and to discuss how different composers captured the Hughes aesthetic in musical terms. Additionally, it is the thrust of this treatise to place Langston Hughes as an heir to the legacies of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich Heine, and Victor Hugo: literary figures prominent in the art song repertoire who were compelled by the socio-political winds of their time to write verse which resonated with various composers. The art song settings of Margaret Bonds, Ricky Ian Gordon, Robert Owens, and Elie Siegmeister are examined here. A testament to the importance of Hughes as a source of poetic inspiration, each composer has over twenty-five settings of Hughes' poetry among their compositions. The song cycles chosen for specific examination represent Hughes' early poetry celebrating the culture and illuminating the lives of African Americans, his middle period foray into purely lyric poetry, and his late period poetry consisting mainly of social commentary and political protest both on behalf of African Americans but also on behalf of oppressed, underserved, and economically disadvantaged people universally. Through the music of the aforementioned composers, Langston Hughes' poetic purpose, speaking on behalf of those whose voices might be easily marginalized and giving dignity to their experiences, continues to carry his literary legacy into the twenty first century.
American Art Song, Elie Seigmeister, Langston Hughes, Margaret Bonds, Ricky Ian Gordon, Robert Owens
Date of Defense
March 29, 2012.
A Treatise submitted to the College of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Music.
Includes bibliographical references.
Stanford Olsen, Professor Directing Treatise; David Kirby, University Representative; Douglas Fisher, Committee Member; Marcía Porter, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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