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Selected twentieth century works for soprano and marimba: an analytic exploration, part 1.


SINCE THE PUBLICATION of the first composition for soprano and marimba in 1976, there has been increasing interest among composers, as well as percussionists and singers, in compositions for this timbral combination. Two works for soprano and marimba--Five Songs for Voice and Marimba by Lynn Glassock, and She Sings ... by Douglas Ovens--were the subject of a recent comprehensive analysis. (1) In this two-part article, key features and outcomes of that analysis are presented, with Part One addressing those for the Glassock piece.

First, traditional compositional elements of formal design were identified through observation of sectional changes; textural changes; harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic design; text painting devices; and text setting methods. Timbral variety, created through changing vocalization types and stroke types, was also observed.

The second component of the analysis was an exploration of how composers and performers overcome an additional challenge inherent in works for soprano and marimba. Because there are no pedals on the marimba, it lacks sustain that is inherent in instruments such as the piano, organ, and other wind instruments. Pairing of voice and marimba can lead to performance issues when composers do not address the element of sustain through compositional techniques. Methods for how composers and performers overcome these challenges were explore&


Glassock Biography

The Percussive Arts Society awarded Lynn Glassock first place for Five Songs for Voice and Marimba in a 1994 composition contest. A professor of percussion at the University of North Carolina, Glassock was born in Dallas, Texas on October 6, 1946, and received both his bachelor of music and master of music degrees in percussion performance from the University of North Texas. At the University of North Carolina, Glassock's professional duties include teaching percussion and introduction to music technology classes. He also conducts the University of North Carolina Percussion Ensemble. (2)

Glassock's compositions have been performed at various universities in the United States. Internationally, his works have been performed in Alcoi, Spain; Prague, Czech Republic; Brussels Conservatory, Belgium; Amsterdam Conservatory, Netherlands; and Rotterdam Conservatory, Netherlands. His works have also been performed at numerous Percussive Arts Society International Conventions from 1992 to 2004.3 Five Songs for Voice and Marimba is published by C. Alan Publications, Inc.

Dickinson Biography

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts to an upper middle class family. Dickinson's poetic career began between 1850 and 1853 when she was in her early twenties, but apparently was most creative between 1858 and 1865 when she fully developed her poems on the subjects of living and dying. (4) Dickinson spent the last seventeen years of her life in seclusion and dressed in all white, which was believed by some to be symbolic. Ruth Miller, for example, indicates that her dress may have symbolized the robe of a martyr, the clothes of a virgin, or the shroud of a poet. (5) In these years of seclusion, the themes of her poems became more reflective and philosophic, lauding the life of isolation and exile that she chose and providing metaphoric depictions of her living death created by this solitude. (6)

Miller asserts that Dickinson used a form oflanguage that was fifty years ahead of her time. (7) Seven poems were published during her lifetime without signature. She died of a kidney condition at the age of fifty-six. (8) The publication of Dickinson's poems after her death spanned more than fifty years and occurred in several phases with the help of many editors. (9) A total of 1775 of Dickinson's poems are published. (10) The first four of the poems included in Five Songs for Voice and Marimba were written by Dickinson circa 1862 in her period of peak creativity. Dickinson wrote the last poem, "The summer lapsed away." circa 1882, four years prior to her death. (11)

Analysis of Vive Songs for Voice and Marimba

"It sifts from leaden sieves"

"It sifts from leaden sieves" is a rounded binary form. Measures 1 through 8 function as an introduction by the marimba. The A section begins in m. 9 and is characterized by portamentos in the soprano, which Glassock intends to be sung as slides. (12) The composer indicates the portamentos are a melodic device that have no relation to the text or text painting purposes. (13) Although some large intervals exist in the soprano in the A section, they are masked by the portamentos to create a more lyric line. The B section begins in m. 29 aftera lermata and decrescendo in m. 28 and contrasts the A section with a more angular melody that features numerous directional changes. Glassock emphasizes the formal shift to the B section with a sudden dynamic change to mezzoforte. The portamentos that characterized the A section disappear in the B section to return in the AI rounding of the form that begins in m. 37.

The texture of the introduction, mm. 1 through 8, is primarily monophonic. Beginning in m. 10, the texture changes, and a dialogue of melodic material is exchanged between soprano and the marimba. When the soprano is singing, the marimba is static with either a single-handed independent roll or a two-handed roll; when the soprano is sustaining a note or resting, the melodic and rhythmic activity shifts to the marimba. Glassock addresses the lack of sustain of the marimba with the technique of either the single-handed independent roll or two-handed roll to create sustain when the soprano is singing.

In the opening group of eight ascending notes, Glassock introduces the melodic intervals on which the melodic material of the piece is primarily based (Example 1). Glassock alternates thirds with seconds until the melody shifts direction. With the shift, a chain of thirds occurs followed by a minor second. Patterns of alternating seconds and thirds or their inversions, sixths and sevenths, dominate the melodic structure of the piece. Often, the interval of the second is aurally veiled through octave displacement. Additionally, a pitch inventory reveals that the soprano melody contains all twelve pitches of the chromatic scale. The soprano ranges from B3 to F5. Finally, the A section is characterized by an undulating melody that is more lyric and less angular than the B section.

Because the introduction of the piece is monophonic, no suggestion of harmony begins until m. 10 with the entry of the soprano and sustained notes in the marimba. The piece is without key, and chords created by rolled notes in the marimba are most often dusters of sound with notes a second apart when the octave displacement is removed. Some triadic chords are suggested through the melodic intervals of the soprano; however, when placed over tone clusters in the marimba the momentary sense of tonality becomes lost.



The rhythm of the marimba introduction is characterized by metric acceleration that begins in m. 4 and reaches a climax on the roll on the last beat of m. 4 and the first beat of m. 5. Metric deceleration is created through the feathered beaming (an unmetered acceleration or deceleration or a rhythm) in m. 5. Glassock links a dynamic crescendo with metric acceleration and a dynamic decrescendo with metric deceleration in mm. 4 and 5. A new process of metric acceleration also linked to a crescendo begins in m. 6. Glassock creates metric acceleration by grouping notes into the following numerical pattern: triplets, quadruplets, quintuplets, sextuplets, and octuplets. Throughout the piece, the soprano line is characterized by rhythmic alternations between eighth notes and triplet figures. At the close of the piece, the practice of metric acceleration returns at [A.sup.I] in m. 37, when Glassock alternates between a B and a [C.sup.#] first in triplets, followed by quadruplets and quintuplets.

Glassock does not use any intentional text painting devices in "It sifts from leaden sieves." He sets the poem describing snow syllabically except "It sifts," "It reaches," and "It ruffles" which are set in two-note groupings.

"A Murmur"

"A Murmur" is a five-part rondo form. A two measure marimba introduction precedes the opening A section. The A sections are to be performed with metric precision ata metronome marking of [??] = 132. The B and C sections contrast the A sections with a slower tempo and more flowing structure. [A.sup.II] is most similar to A with a large percentage of direct pitch repetition. [A.sup.I] maintains the texture, tempo, and rhythmic precision of A, but the notes in both the soprano and marimba are varied. The A sections are polyphonic as the soprano melody contrasts a rhythmically active single melodic line in the marimba. The B and C sections are homophonic in texture with an arpeggiated line in the marimba that supports a more lyric soprano line. Sustain is created through rolls and driving rhythmic patterns.

The voice part ranges from [B.sup.[??].sub.3] to [E.sub.5] in "A Murmur" and the soprano melody in the A sections undulates around G4. The melodic range is small in the A sections and generally moves no more than a third away from G. The B section melody has a wider range, spanning the interval of a ninth, and is more lyric than the A section melody. The C section melody spans a tenth, the widest interval span of the entire piece. The lyric melody of the C section, although the largest in intervallic scope, undulates around [B.sub.4].

"A Murmur" contains vertical triadic harmonies in mm. 5, 8, 9, 22, 29, and 32 through which Glassock suggests a D tonal center. The half diminished seventh chord in the key of D in m. 5 (Example 2) resolves to D in m. 8 rather than na. 6. The [C.sup.#]s and [E.sup.[??]s present throughout the A section resolve to D in m. 8 (Example 3). The arpeggiated chord in m. 9 that stacks to A-C#-[E.sup.[??]-G-B could function as an augmented sixth chord if the [E.sup.[??]] were below the [C.sup.#]; however, Glassock has modified the augmented sixth chord by inverting the interval to a diminished third. If this were an augmented sixth chord, the resolution would move outward to octave Ds. In the inversion, the resolution moves inward to a unison D. Glassock preserves the tension created by the diminished third until m. 17, the first m. of [A.sup.I], where the [C.sup.#] and [E.sup.[??]] resolve to a D (Example 4). The [C.sup.#]s and [E.sup.#]s melodically present in the A section return in m. 27 with the beginning of Ali. The hall diminished seventh chord with C* as its root present in m. 5 returns in m. 29. The piece reaches its final resolution with D as the tonal center in m. 32, the last measure of the piece. This chord is an inverted D minor chord with an added B for coloration and a nontraditional element.



Most sections of "A Murmur" are characterized by a different rhythmic pattern in the marimba; however, the characteristic rhythmic pattern of A" is the same as A, four sixteenth notes followed by an eighth note. The marimba in the B section is distinguished by twelve sixteenth notes with tenuto markings that emphasize the first, fifth, seventh, and tenth sixteenth notes. The characteristic rhythm of the [A.sup.I] section in the marimba is four sixteenth notes followed by two eighth notes, while that of the C section is even eighth notes in a 12/8 meter.

Glassock sets the text in "A Murmur" primarily syllabically. Although according the composer there are no intentional text painting devices used in this piece, elements of text painting seem to be present. (14) On the text, "A long, long yellow on the lawn" which is the beginning of the B section at m. 9, Glassock lengthens the predominant note value from an eighth note in the A section to a dotted quarter note on the first "long." He continues the text painting in m. 12 with the text, "A hubbub as of feet;' when he shifts the predominant note length to sixteenth notes.

"The sun kept setting"

"The sun kept setting" is an A B [A.sup.I] formal structure with a short seven measure B section. Glassock juxtaposes a steady ostinato pattern in the marimba against a floating, lyric vocal line in the A section that returns in m. 29 at [A.sup.I]. Sustain is created through the ostinato pattern in the A sections. A homophonic texture begins in the B section at m. 22, where sustain is created through rolls.

This is the only piece in the cycle to use varied stroke types and vocalization types. In the ostinato pattern of the marimba, the first note of each of the seven sixteenth note groupings is played in the center of the bar, allowing the sound to vibrate and ring at its fullest resonance. The other six notes of the grouping are played close to the node, which is the spot of the bar that lacks vibration, creating a sound that lacks resonance and ring. This alternation between center and node creates timbral variance. Glassock also creates timbral variance through the introduction of Sprechstimme in m. 22 at the opening of the B section. Glassock asserts that his intention is for the Sprechstimme to be barely above a whisper and spoken on the approximate pitches indicated. (15)

"The sun kept setting" contains arch, inverted arch, and undulating melodic phrases. All of the melodic lines of both A sections are smooth and lyric. The soprano line ranges from [A.sub.3] to [E.sub.5]. The two phrases of the B section contrast A section phrases with larger intervallic jumps and more angular melodies. As a unifying element, Glassock uses the same intervallic material in the soprano in mm. 33 and 34 of "The sun kept setting" as the opening soprano line in "A Murmur" (Example 5).

In this song Glassock suggests [E.sup.[??]] tonality through repetition and emphasis. The melody of the soprano undulates around [E.sup.[??]] in mm. 5, 7, 9, 33, 34, and 35. The ostinato pattern establishes [E.sup.[??]] by its outer octaves, but introduces ambiguity with the [B.sup.#]-[E.sup.[??]] interplay (Example 6). In Example 6, C is an abbreviation for the center of the bar, and N is an abbreviation for the node of the bar. The [E.sup.[??]]-based ostinato cycles for two measures and then sequences down a whole step to a [D.sup.[??]]-based ostinato. These alternations of two measure groupings span twelve measures. In m. 13, the ostinato modulates up a hall step to E-based and D-based two measure groupings. Glassock uses the chords in the homophonic B section to modulate back to the [E.sup.[??]]-and [D.sup.[??]]-based ostinato. In the B section the music shifts from an F minor chord with a [G.sup.[??]] for coloration down to a chord cluster with D as its root. In m. 25, the F minor chord reappears to shift down to a chord cluster with [D.sup.[??]] as the root, which closes the B section and provides the modulatory bridge back to the [E.sup.[??]] based ostinato pattern that recurs in m. 29 with the onset of [A.sup.I]. The piece closes with a final [E.sup.[??]] in m. 43.



In the A section of "The sun kept setting," Glassock juxtaposes the rhythmically steady seven sixteenth note groupings of the marimba in 14/16 meter against the smooth and floating predominantly eighth note triplet figures of the soprano. The B section is rhythmically freer in the marimba with rolled chords in 4/4, 5/4, and 2/4 meters. The soprano shifts from the eighth note triplet dominance of the A sections to include sixteenth notes and a juxtaposition of eighth note triplets against quarter note triplets.

Glassock sets the text syllabically in "The sun kept setting;' with several occurrences of text painting devices. On the first incidence of the word "setting" in m. 5, Glassock uses downward motion of a diminished fifth; on the repeat of the word in m. 6, he uses an augmented third followed by a half step. Glassock uses similar treatment of the word, "dropping" in mm. 13 and 14 with descending major seconds, minor seconds, and augmented seconds. Glassock contrasts downward motion on the text "drowsing still" in m. 23 with upward motion on the text, "were awake" in m. 24.

Glassock comments that in "The sun kept setting" rime presses forward and is unstoppable, a sensation realized through the extremely steady sixteenth note pattern of the marimba, played alternately between the center of the bar and the node. Each note played at the center of the bar represents the tick-tock of a clock. (16) Glassock indicates that the soprano is to float above the steadiness of the marimba, which is bound by the rigidity of time ticking on.

"Two butterflies"

The fourth song in this cycle, "Two butterfiies," opens with an unmeasured marimba introduction. For the purpose of analysis, this unmeasured page will be referred to as m. 1. The introduction is similar to that of "It sifts from leaden sieves" with the use of feathered beaming. The formal structure of this piece is through-composed, and the texture is polyphonic throughout. "Two butterflies" is the only number in the cycle in which Glassock does not address sustain with either rolled notes or fast moving undulating passages. In fact, Glassock creates a sparse and sporadic accompanimental texture. It is the responsibility of the soprano to sing an extremely legato line in order to create a sense of connection.

While undulating phrases predominate in the soprano melody, arch phrases are also present. The voice part ranges from [B.sup.3]" to [F.sup.#.sub.5]. A portamento in the soprano in m. 4 mimics the descending glissando of the marimba at the end of the introduction, providing an element of unity. Glassock features the whole tone and pentatonic scales in "Two butterflies" A descending whole tone scale on the last four notes of m. 7 reaches a conclusion on the [F.sup.#] in m. 8. Beginning in m. 9, Glassock sets the melody on the text "And then together bore away" with a pentatonic scale. Additionally, a descending whole tone scale spans from beat two of m. 18 into the third note of the marimba in m. 19. Although whole tone and pentatonic scales are featured, the soprano melody contains all twelves notes of the chromatic scale. Glassock unifies this fourth song with the first piece in the cycle through the alternating Bbs and Cs that are found in m. 17 in the marimba in "Two butterflies'and in m. 9 and 37 in "It sifts from leaden sieves" (Example 7). Glassock borrows from the melodic material in the marimba on beat one of m. 18 for the melody of the soprano in m. 20. The intervals of C-B-[F.sup.#] in the marimba in m. 18 are identical to the D-C-[A.sup.[??]] in the soprano in m. 20 (Example 8).


Only eight occurrences of vertical harmony exist in this polyphonic piece. The majority of the vertical harmonies are used to create color; however, B as a tonal center is suggested by the vertical harmony in m. 8, the arpeggiated harmony in m. 14, and the B-rooted vertical harmony in the last measure. Root movement by fifth from the [F.sup.#] in m. 8 to the B in m. 14 suggests a dominant to tonic relationship (Example 9). The sustained vertical harmony that occurs in m. 8 after much rhythmic activity provides the impression of a cadence. Additionally, the arpeggiated first four notes of m. 14 outline a B half diminished seventh chord. Measure 14 begins a new section, which offers importance to the B half dimin ished seventh chord. The closing vertical harmony of the piece contains B as its root, stacked Bs, and an F, finalizing the dominant to tonic root movement by fifth.



The rhythm of the soprano line is dominated by triplet figures in a lilting pattern. The marimba is rhythmically active and unpredictable, containing feathered beaming, triplets, quintuplets, sextuplets, septuplets. Whereas in "It sifts from leaden sieves" Glassock uses feathered beaming and rhythmic groupings additively to create metric acceleration and deceleration, he uses feathered beaming and rhythmic groupings randomly in "Two butterflies" as a tool to paint an aural picture of the free flight of a butterfly.

The text of this piece is set primarily syllabically; however, Glassock melismatically sets the word, "shining" in m. 10. Also, the word "stream" in m. 4 is divided between two notes with a portamento connecting the two. This use of portamento serves as a unifying device between the first song and the fourth song and is the only recurrence of the use of portamento in the cycle. Three examples of text painting exist in "Two butterflies." The melodic patterns of the marimba portray the two butterflies in whimsical flight. Additionally, Glassock sets a lilting triplet waltz rhythm to the text, "And waltzed above a stream." Finally, Glassock shifts from the flight-portraying triplet figures to eighth notes for the text in m. 7, "And rested on a beam," landing on a half note that is tied to an eighth note for the word "beam." The music comes to a rest at this point because of the rhythmic stasis of the extended rhythm.

"The summer lapsed away"

The form of the last piece in the cycle, "The summer lapsed away," is tripartite. A six measure marimba introduction opens the slow and expressive A section. The B section, which spans only five measures, begins in m. 13 with the instruction for a slightly faster tempo.

Several similarities exist between the opening six measures and mm. 18 through 22, the C section. First, m. 18 begins with the same note as m. 1 and contains a similar upward moving gesture. Additionally, m. 18 contains the same dynamic level as m. 1. The contour of the melody in m. 19 matches the contour of the melody at the end of m. 2, and they contain an identical shift to mf. These similarities between the introductory material of A and the introductory material of the C section, however, are not enough to identify it as A (1).

The texture of the song is primarily homophonic with monophonic moments in the introduction of the A section and the interlude that marks the beginning of the C section. The dialogue of melodic material that is passed between the soprano and the marimba unifies "The summer lapsed away" with "It sifts from leaden sieves." In both, when the soprano is singing, the marimba is static. When the soprano is sustaining a note or resting, the melodic and rhythmic activity shifts to the marimba. Glassock creates sustain in the marimba when the soprano is singing with the technique of either the single-handed independent roll or two-handed roll.

Each section of this tripartite piece has a different melodic treatment for the voice. The melody of the A section is based upon a whole tone scale until the text "To seem like perfidy," which is set to a descending half step followed a descending whole step. The C mixolydian mode characterizes the melody of the B section, while that of the C section contains all twelve pitches of the chromatic scale. The range is from [B.sub.3] to [D.sub.5].

The harmonic structure of "The summer lapsed away" is based on intervallic expansion and contraction. Glassock uses secundal, triadic, and quartal harmonies in succession as harmonic intervals expand and contract. Triadic harmonies do not lead to a cadence, as vertical harmonies are created for aural color rather than harmonic function. The interval of a second becomes important throughout the piece by its presence in secundal harmonies as in m. 3, by its use in separating larger interval groups as in m. 19, and by its presence when vertical harmonies that are expanded through octave displacement are reduced to their closest notes as in beat four of m. 24 (see Example 10). When all of the notes of this vertical structure are compacted to their closest position, the notes [D.sup.b], [E.sup.b], F, and G are all in secundal relationship.


Rhythms of the soprano line are created by the natural flow of the text as if it were spoken. The greatest amount of rhythmic activity in the marimba occurs in the introduction and the interlude, which contain eighth note triplets, quadruplets, and quintuplets. Glassock hints at the technique of metric acceleration that governed the introduction of "It sifts from leaden sieves" in the first two beats of "The summer lapsed away" with a quadruplet on beat one and a quintuplet on beat two, which lead into a double stroke roll on beats three and four. Glassock further unifies the two pieces by using similar rhythmic figures and melodic contours in m. 2 of "The summer lapsed away" and m. 29 of "It sifts from leaden sieves"

"The summer lapsed away" contains primarily syllabic text setting. No specific text painting devices are used in this song; rather, with quiet dynamic levels, extended rhythmic values, and sustained notes in the marimba through the use of rolls, the composer creates a peaceful mood. Glassock doses the piece and the cycle with the melodic interval of a major seventh in the soprano at the end of the text, "Our summer made her light escape into the beautiful," creating a lack of resolution. Because Dickinson questioned life, death, and salvation, when waning summer is considered a metaphor for waning life, it seems appropriate that Glassock would end the cycle with the equivalent of a musical question, represented by a lack of resolution of the major seventh.


Upon analysis of each piece, the researcher finds specific compositional devices employed by Glassock to address the lack of sustain in the marimba. Glassock uses various types of rolls on extended note values and driving rhythmic patterns to create the illusion of sustain on the marimba. "Two butterflies" is the only song in which the composer does not include rolls or driving rhythms to create sustain. In that case, it is the responsibility of the soprano to sing an extremely legato line in order to create the connection.

Although each work discussed in this study is atonal, Glassock utilizes intervallic patterns or scalar patterns. The whole tone scale is important in "The summer lapsed away." Additionally, Glassock utilizes Sprechstimme to create timbrai variety and sets the texts of these pieces almost entirely syllabically.

When observing the song cycle as a whole unit, an overlying symmetrical formal structure is revealed. Pieces one, three, and tive are tripartite in their formal structure, either AB[A.sup.1] as in the first and third pieces, or ABC as in the fifth piece. The second and fourth pieces contrast the first, third, and fifth pieces. The second piece is a rondo form while the fourth piece is through composed.


(1.) Jane Kristen Hagness, "Selected Works for Soprano and Marimba: A Performance Guide" (Doctoral dissertation, Shenandoah Conservatory, 2007).

(2.) Lynn Glassock, 2005-10-03.8377327010 (accessed April 9, 2007).

(3.) Ibid.

(4.) Thomas Johnson, ed., The Complete Poetas of Emily Dickinson (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1960).

(5.) Ruth Miller, "Emily Dickinson," Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 1, The American Renaissance in New England, edited by J. Myerson (1978); (accessed June 27, 2007).

(6.) Ibid.

(7.) Ibid.

(8.) Ibid.

(9.) Janet Gray, "Emily Dickinson" American Writers (1998); (accessed June 27, 2007).

(10.) Johnson, ed.

(11.) Ibid.

(12.) Lynn Glassock, personal communication (July 12, 2007).

(13.) Ibid.

(14.) Ibid.

(15.) Ibid.

(16.) Ibid.

Dr. Jane Hagness, lyric soprano, earned as Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Kentucky in 1997 and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University in 2007. Since 2008, Hagness has served on the faculty of Lehigh University where she teaches voices lessons and voice class. Hagness returns to the voice faculty of West Chester University of Pennsylvania for the fall semester of 2011 where she taught from 2008-2009. Additionally, Hagness taught at DeSales University from 2007-2008 and Shenandoah Conservatory from 2006-2007. Hagness has been an active recitalist in the United States and Spain, specializing in twentieth and twenty-first century music. She presented poster paper sessions at the National Association of Teachers of Singing National Conference in Nashville, Tennessee in 2008 and at the International Congress of Voice Teachers in Paris, France in 2009.
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Author:Hagness, Jane Kristen
Publication:Journal of Singing
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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