Poetry Analysis in the Music Classroom - Wilfred Owen and Britten's War Requiem

Byron Almén

The study of poetic texts that appear in musical works occupies a limited position in the modern theory curriculum. Despite the intimate connection between music and the human voice that has existed as long as the human race, disciplinary divisions have tended to relegate poetic analysis to the applied voice studio and to isolated moments in the theory sequence - usually in conjunction with treatments of Romantic Lieder. Time constraints and the need to deal effectively with a large number of topics can lead to the marginalization of text analysis in the classroom. Yet at no time in recent history has the subject been more in need of attention than today. Students currently entering postsecondary institutions are less and less likely to have a solid grounding in the study of literature and writing than was the case in previous decades, when the study of classic texts formed the essential core of education. To a lesser degree, this trend, together with disciplinary specialization, has also resulted in many faculty lacking the expertise and experience to address issues of text and music, as evidenced by the relative paucity of scholarly literature on music and text in relation to other analytical issues. In a field where singers and instrumentalists alike encounter music with text on a frequent basis, the need for analytical facility with text is one of the great unfinished tasks in music pedagogy.