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This article is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

Working with Composers Ursula Vaughan Williams

WORKING WITH COMPOSERS is a curious, and usually delightful experience. When a musician likes words that have already been written that he or she has read either in manuscript, or that have already been published, and decided that they suggest music, of course the writer's part is a passive one. This happens frequently when the author is dead - preferably long enough dead to be out of copyright. When the writer is alive the composer will probably set the poem or poems before they tell the writer (here I mean me) and eventually there is a concert at which I hear their work, or a cassette arrives from America, or some other distant place, and I discover if this involuntary collaboration is a Good Thing, or not.

When a partnership is proposed, usually by a friend, sometimes by a stranger who has come across your work, you are able to make your own decisions and choices, or so I have found, sometimes about the subject matter, always about form, though it is the musician who says what length of work he wants, and for what voices.

It helps enormously if you are fairly familiar with the composer's music and with some of the vast literature of choral music, and that of songs, song cycles, and, if it's to be a stage work, with operas. Music is much longer than speech, so the text must not be of epic proportion for an opera libretto is much ...


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