Turning Ears, Tuning Hearts: Musical Language in the Romantic Acoustic Soundscape

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Kinderman, Laura
Word and Music Studies , Lyric Poetry , Elocution , Musicology , Sound Studies , British Romanticism
This study re-imagines the relationship between music and poetry in the Long Romantic period. It centres on a selection of lyrics by male canonical poets before moving into an analysis of texts by women who were prolific in their own time, with the aim of establishing a contextual canon of musical responsiveness that is characterized by a form of musical declamation in poetry. Beginning with an exploration of the cultural intersections of words, music, texts, and songs, I present a British Romantic poetic soundscape in which acts of reading, speaking, and writing are animated as live speech and performed as music. I engage with a number of thematic elements that assist me in identifying, categorizing, and analyzing often overlooked references to music in the lyrics of Charlotte Smith, Joanna Baillie, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Shelley, John Keats, Lord Byron, Felicia Hemans, Letitia Landon, and John Clare. Each chapter unfolds around a dominant metaphor that describes a different facet of the musical experience of poetry. As a testing ground for my approach, I apply the argument, that musical language is interwoven with Romantic culture, to two national song collections: Lord Byron’s and Isaac Nathan’s Hebrew Melodies (1815, 1816) and Felicia Hemans’s and John Parry’s Welsh Melodies (1822). The overarching message of this study is that we should read texts in ways that are sensitive to the dynamics between authors, readers, speakers, and performers who contributed to shaping the Romantic creative act. My approach is rooted in the theory of new formalism, which anchors itself in historical evidence while maintaining its focus on the text. The interdisciplinary terminology that I employ is drawn from literary studies, musicology, elocution, rhetoric, sound studies, and word and music studies. This study was motivated by a proliferation of musical references within Romantic lyric poems, and actively counters claims that these are superficial and supplementary rather than integral and essential to our understanding of the culture and ethos of the Romanticism.
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