Type of Document Dissertation Author Hundley, Marion Shawn URN etd-04092004-181309 Title Dulce et Decorum est Degree Doctor of Musical Arts Department Music, School of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Andre Thomas Committee Member Ladislav Kubik Committee Member Mark Wingate Committee Member Peter Spencer Committee Member Keywords
- Vocal Soloists
- Original Composition
Date of Defense 2004-03-23 Availability unrestricted AbstractFrom the beginning, this was intended to be a work for chorus and orchestra with a text suitable to some
current events, particularly the recent war and new age we live in since September 11, 2001. As a child of a Vietnam
veteran suffering from extreme psychological consequences of that war, I have first hand experiences of the effects
war has on those involved and their loved ones.
Much research led to the discovery of the poem Dulce et decorum est by the prominent poet-soldier of
WWI, Wilfred Owen. An original goal for the piece is to portray war as timeless which explains the inclusion of
three letters written during different wars throughout the twentieth century.
The music is continuous. Tenor, soprano and baritone solos interrupt the verses of the poem with the
wartime letters. The initial metrically ambiguous music at the beginning is to set the somber tone of the work and
portray the notion that this could be any war in any time. The recurring descending line is introduced. The chorus
enters with the first verse of the poem which has yet to reach the vileness of the later stanzas. What follows is an
orchestral interlude in the form of a relentless march and battling pulses of two and three. After a brief transition,
the tenor sings the letter of a soldier injured during WWII to his mother. The letter is deceptively hopeful about the
nature of his injuries and the chorus abruptly and violently enters with the second verse of the poem describing a
gas attack. Chromaticism increases by the end of this verse and an interlude sets the mood for the second letter.
This letter, written after the attack on Pearl Harbor, is filled with desperate longing and fear for the future. Any
hopefulness by the soprano’s final notes is dashed by the third stanza of the poem describing a violent death. The
work’s climax is reached when the chorus sings the Latin “Dulce et decorum est” in a musical language similar to
the beginning of the work. But the baritone has already entered with the last letter from a Vietnam soldier angry and
bitter over shooting a girl holding a grenade. The position of the last letter intensifies the relentless horror of war by
evading the expected post-climactic resolution of the conflict and the work ends with a return of the music from the
beginning. The baritone’s final lines are set to the descending pentachord.
The emotional impact of the texts used is paramount. Consistent rhythmic motives and simple melodic
shapes that rarely stray outside the initial pentachord aid in the comprehensibility of the text. Owen’s ironic use of
the latin ode, which translates similarly to “It is sweet and honorable to die for your country,” ties perfectly with the
anguish in each letter by emphasizing how war’s effects reach beyond the superficial reasons people wage conflict
with one another.
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