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Introduction: Voice and Guitar as a Medium for Art Songs

The guitar and its ancestors have a long tradition as accompanimental instruments in song. Some of the
earliest masterpieces of the accompanied art song are those of John Dowland, which were written for
solo voice and lute. Dowland was himself a lutenist, and the accompaniments he wrote for the
instrument are careful and intelligent (and often quite difficult) complements to the vocal lines. The
delicate beauty of these songs is largely dependent upon the quiet sound of plucked strings in the
accompaniment. Not surprisingly, guitarists have enthusiastically claimed this repertory as theirs,
although this practice is sometimes frowned upon by period instrument enthusiasts. In any event, the
guitar is infinitely more appropriate for Dowland than the modern piano, as it is practically impossible
for a pianist to keep from overpowering the light voices that are typically heard in the performance of
early music.
After Dowland there was little written for voice with guitar or lute until the late eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries, when the art song in general began to enjoy renewed popularity, following a
period of relative neglect in the late baroque period. The most prolific composer of late classic-era
guitar songs was Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829), a guitarist, cellist, and singer of Italian birth living in
Vienna from 1806. Thomas Heck counts 174 songs by Giuliani "for piano or guitar accompaniment."
Only 31 are German lieder, while 69 have Italian texts and 74 are in French. Heck points out that
these numbers reflect the taste of musical amateurs in early nineteenth-century Vienna, and may help to
explain the relative unpopularity Schubert's lieder with the Viennese public (Thomas Heck, from his
Introduction to Mauro Giuliani's Sech Lieder Op. 89, Tecla Editions, 1976).
Due to the popularity of the guitar in Vienna, it seems to have been common practice at this time to
simultaneously publish songs in editions with piano or guitar accompaniments. Heck cites the
publication in 1807 of Beethoven's "Adelaide" in an arrangement for voice and guitar as an indicator of
the growing importance of the guitar and of the demand that existed for such arrangements. In 1821
Diabelli began to publish Schubert's first songs (Op. 1-7), four of which he brought out in concurrent
editions for voice and guitar. Heck has been able to verify that in Vienna at least 26 of Schubert's songs
were published with guitar accompaniment from 1821-1828. He also quotes Dr. Walther Drr's
foreward to the "New Complete Edition of Franz Schubert's Songs" (Series IV, Lieder, Cassel 1970), in
reference to the performance practice of Schubert's songs during his lifetime. Professor Drr said that
piano accompaniments were often changed to suit the abilities of the performers, and that they "could
also, if necessary, be played on analogous instruments instead of the piano and adapted to their
requirements. Thus a number of songs...were published in an arrangement for voice and guitar, and
although they very probably did not originate with Schubert himself, they were certainly sanctioned by
him..." In Germany, Carl Maria von Weber composed at least sixteen songs with guitar
accompaniment: Op. 13, 1-5; Op. 25, 1-5; Op. 29, 1-3; plus a few unnumbered songs.
In the twentieth century, a number of leading composers have written works for voice and guitar, many
undoubtedly inspired by the performances of Peter Pears and Julian Bream in the 1950's-60's. The
most widely performed contemporary guitar songs are those by Benjamin Britten: Folk Song
Arrangements, Vol.6; and Songs From the Chinese, Op. 58. In these songs Britten has treated the
guitar with the same seriousness he did the piano, and he seems to have made few compromises in
deference to the guitarist. They are difficult pieces, but musically very rewarding and well worth the
effort necessary to play them. Other composers who have written for voice and guitar include Lennox
Berkeley (Songs of the Half-Light, Op. 65), Elliott Carter (Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred), Peter
Maxwell Davies (Dark Angels), Joaqun Rodrigo, Michael Tippett (Songs for Achilles), Joaqun Turina,
and William Walton.
The greatest advantage to using a guitar rather than a piano in accompanying a singer is that it is
possible to achieve a greater degree of intimacy. The guitar is a very quiet instrument when compared
to the piano (or just about any other instrument), and a singer is able to sing very softly without any
danger of being overpowered by the accompaniment. In effect, a vocalist's dynamic range can be
extended considerably on the piano side of the spectrum. A performance with the guitar usually has the
effect of heightening the aural awareness of an audience, making the slightest noise distracting and a
cough almost deafening. The delicate beauty of this medium is such that listeners are often afraid to
move or even breathe for fear of missing some nuance in the performance.
The visual impact of a voice and guitar performance conveys a greater sense of intimacy than does a
voice and piano recital. In a traditional piano-vocal recital, the performers are arranged in a way that
creates a rather formal atmosphere. The singer stands in front of a piano while the accompanist sits
somewhat in the background facing the side of the stage, appearing to be quite removed from the
audience. The guitarist and vocalist, though, are placed side-by-side, both facing the audience and
turned slightly toward each other, so that the impression they make is more one of sharing with the
audience than of presentation to it. Occasionally, someone even revives the lost art of accompanying
himself on the guitar, such as Matthew Hinsley of Austin, Texas, whose performances are truly

Letters as Song Texts

Although the use of letters as song texts is uncommon, it is not without precedent. A famous earlier
example is Luigi Nono's Il Canto Sospeso (1955-6), which is based upon texts from the letters of
prisoners condemned to death for anti-fascism (Antokoletz 379). This piece is really of a different
genre, though, being scored for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Peggy Glanville-Hicks wrote a
collection of songs for voice and chamber orchestra called Letters From Morocco (1952), based on
letters by Paul Bowles. The premiere of this work was conducted by Leopold Stokowski in 1953. Paul
Bowles used a letter written to him by Gertrude Stein as the text for his song Letter to Freddy (1935).
A more surprising example is Monteverdi's Due Lettere Amorose (1619), scored for voice and
continuo, which can be found in Collana di opere del XVIe et XVIIe Secolo, Vol.1. There is a
recording of one of the songs on an album entitled The Many Voices of Cathy Berberian. The text is
quite lengthy, and it is delivered in an unmeasured, free style that resembles natural speech. The notes
on the record jacket say that Monteverdi wished to portray a woman reading aloud a love letter that she
has just received so that she might bask in the words her beauty has inspired.
For centuries, letters have been a primary source for information on people's lives and a direct path to
the minds of their authors. Next to diaries, letters are probably a person's most personal writings. In
correspondence we have the best chance to see great figures with their guards down, their thoughts
flowing freely onto the page and their emotions issuing forth without inhibition. Admittedly, though,
some celebrities might feel restrained by the knowledge that their letters will likely one day be gathered
up and published for the world to read. Poetry is also a time-honored avenue for emotional release, but
there is always an element of craft in it, of taking great care with the placement of each word so as to
consciously create a work of art. The charm of letters lies in the spontaneity and sometimes even
carelessness with which they are written.
For this cycle Argento chose excerpts from letters written by seven composers: Chopin, Mozart,
Schubert, J.S. Bach, Debussy, Puccini, and Schumann. The letters have all been translated into
English, taken from various sources as indicated on the inside front cover of the score. All of the letters
except the one from Bach, which is addressed to the Town Council, are personal letters to friends or
family. Argento seems to have arranged them thematically: the odd-numbered songs have more
intimate messages of one kind or another, while the even-numbered ones are complaints of various
Chopin, describing his surroundings to a friend
Mozart, complaining to his father about Count Arco
Schubert to a friend, in a deep state of depression
Bach, complaining to the Town Council about Herr Johannes Fredrich Eitelwein
Debussy, pondering over the war and despairing over the condition of his brain
Puccini, complaining to a friend about Paris
Schumann, a love letter to his fianc, Clara

This careful ordering might help support the notion that Letters From Composers is in some sense a
cycle, and not just a collection of songs.
The sentiments expressed in the letters represent a wide range of human experience--rage,
disappointment, disillusionment, impatience, unhappiness, isolation, sorrow, despair, and finally love.
Until Schumann's letter, the feeling of the cycle is predominantly negative, even considering the rather
funny letters of Bach, Puccini, and Mozart. In spite of their inherent humor and the witty musical
settings Argento gave them, these letters can hardly be considered positive, since they are all vehicles
of complaint. Schumann's love letter rounds off the cycle with a welcome feeling of hope and
happiness, completing a kind of cycle of human emotions.

The Songs
The songs in this collection/cycle have no apparent musical connections to one another, thematic or
otherwise, and the styles are as different as the authors of the letters. In fact, Argento has for each letter
written music that has some stylistic element that resembles the musical style of the composer from
which the letter comes. The commission for this work came at a time (1968) when there was a general
enthusiasm for "quotation music," and a set of texts like these offers many opportunities for quotation if
a composer is at all inclined to do so. What better opportunity to quote or imitate earlier masters could
there be than in settings of their own words? Although there is only one outright quotation in the cycle
(Schubert's letter), there is almost always a hint of each composer's style, or a wholesale imitation in
the case of Bach's letter. But while there are a variety of stylistic influences at work, Argento's own
style is always present, and indeed one of the main characteristics of his style seems to be a lack of any
one style, a chameleon-like ability to adapt his musical language to reflect a wide variety of textual
situations, all the while retaining his identity as a composer. One of the goals of this study, then, will
be to attempt a general definition of his style through the articulation of certain stylistic characteristics
that cut across all of his various compositional guises.
Biographical Note
Dominick Argento was born on October 27, 1927 in York, Pennsylvania. He studied composition at the
Peabody Conservatory and the Eastman School of Music, and privately with Hugo Weisgall (b.1912).
He has been a professor of composition at the University of Minnesota since 1959, and two of his most
important operas were written for the Minnesota Opera: The Masque of Angels and Postard from
Morocco. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for his song cycle From the Diary of Virginia
Woolf. Letters From Composers, for high voice and guitar, was written in 1968 on a commission from
Vern Sutton (tenor) and Jeffrey Van (guitar), two of Argento's colleagues on the faculty of the
University of Minnesota.

Frdric Chopin
Chopin's letter of 28 December, 1838 to his friend Julien Fontana is a description of his surroundings in
Spain, where he had gone with George Sand to recuperate from an illness. He was staying in a
Carthusian monastery a few miles outside of Palma at Valdemosa, where he was forced to go after his
illness developed into bronchitis. Just a few weeks before writing this letter, he had written to Fontana
that he was feeling better and was looking forward to moving into the monastery, which was located in
what he called the most beautiful region of the world:
", grce la Providence, je suis aujourd'hui redevenu moi-mme...J'irai habiter dans quelques jours
la plus belle rgion du monde; j'y aurai la mer, les montagnes, tout ce que tu peux imaginer. Je logerai
dans un vieux clotre, norme et abandonn...C'est prs de Palma et rien n'est plus beau. On y voit des
arcades, les plus potiques des cimetires, en un mot, j'y serai bien." (December 3, 1838)
The rather dark and gloomy mood of Argento's musical setting does not seem to be a reflection of any
state of mind that Chopin might have been in, but rather a musical picture of the place from which it
was written. He did use words such as "coffin" and "cell" to describe his rooms, which might lead one
to think he felt imprisoned in the monastery, but later in the same letter he seemed to still be quite as
enchanted by the place as he was in the earlier letter cited above:
"...Mais tout cela n'est qu'un grano de sable en comparaison de ce ciel, de la posie manant de toutes
choses et des vives couleurs de ce paysage. C'est l'un des plus beaux du monde et les yeux des hommes
ne l'ont pas terni..."
Argento uses Chopin's words to set the stage for the rest of the cycle, as a sort of introduction. I like to
think of the excerpts from these seven letters as fitting together to form a kind of archetypal letter, a
conglomerate that touches upon a spectrum of purposes and styles--a cycle of the art of letters. It is
logical, then, that this letter would come first. Many personal letters begin with descriptions of the
weather or some other general condition before moving on to more intimate subjects, and it seems like
an appropriate way to begin the song cycle, too. This excerpt does in fact come from the very
beginning of the letter and says 'this is where I am and this is what it's like here.' After the last line of
text represented in the song, there are another couple of pages in which Chopin talks about various
other things, including his Prludes, the correct way to address letters to him, and the problems he had
been having in getting a piano delivered to him.
The ostinato figure established at the outset has a haunting mysteriousness about it that reflects
Chopin's surroundings and begins the cycle on a rather ominous note. It is essentially an ornamented
chordal motion from A major to B-flat major and back again, repeated over and over.
EXAMPLE 1.1: m. 1
Here Argento has provided a musical description of Spain by employing a characteristically Spanish
use of harmony: motion from tonic to -flatII and back. The fact that the accompaniment is played on a
guitar can only further enhance the Spanish feeling of the music.
Aspects of Form
Argento uses a small number of motivic/thematic ideas to unify a basically through-composed
structure. Points of arrival are set off by changes in texture, as in bar 9, where the ostinato is broken
off, giving way to a recitative-like passage in which there are sustained chords in the accompaniment.
Bars 9-11 are linked motivically to what precedes them by a trill in the accompaniment, and by a slight
transformation of the opening melody (bars 2-5) in setting the words "here I am. .." Since the ostinato
figure seems to represent his surroundings (i.e. the monastery, the surrounding countryside, Spain), the
break in the pattern from in mm. 9-11 reflects the fact that now he is talking about himself and not the
monastery. The figure's return in m. 12 signals the textual return to things dealing with his
EXAMPLE 1.2: mm. 8-15

The first major point of arrival comes in bar 14 (example 1.2), where the tempo picks up, the texture
thins out, and the harmonic language changes. There is still an audible connection with what precedes
it, though, because the new rhythmic figure in the accompaniment is derived from the first beat of the
ostinato figure. This musical change seems to reflect the text inasmuch as Chopin has now begun to
focus on his immediate surroundings (i.e. his room).
His attention next turns to the window, through which can be seen the garden and some trees of various
description. Again the character of the music changes, but there is a motivic connection to the ostinato
figure (this time a melodic connection)--a rising and falling minor second in the accompaniment, which
corresponds to the I--flatII-I chordal motion in the ostinato. Looking out the window at the Spanish
countryside, it seems appropriate to recall this particular motive, which has already been established as
a musical representation of Spain. This rising and falling minor second, then, seems to be a kind of
leitmotif for things having to do with the monastery and its surroundings in general.
EXAMPLE 1.3: mm. 16-29
Another important point of arrival comes in m. 20, when Chopin begins an itemization of the contents
of his room. There is a V-I cadence in E-flat leading into this new section, though it is somewhate
disguised on paper by an alternate spelling, and audibly by the fact that the E-flat chord is in second-
inversion. This is a truly striking moment, as the accompaniment turns into a quiet, measured
strumming. The E-flat chords in m. 20 have a wonderful sonority on the guitar, one that is very
unusual to guitarists simply because tonal guitar music is rarely written in flat keys. In this section
(mm. 20-25) there is still another motivic link to the ostinato figure, this time in the voice part. The
arpeggio figures coming on "opposite the window" and "Beside the bed" loosely resemble the arpeggio
on beat one of the ostinato figure. This section comprises a series of different chords effected by voice
leading, ending with a V-I cadence in G (mm. 25-26). The cadence is disguised somewhat by the 1st-
inversion V chord and its registrally-displaced resolution to unison G's in m. 26, where begins a
transition to the final section of the song.
The last section of the piece is a recap of things already heard, in which the voice and guitar work
together in such a way that one seems to complete the thoughts of the other. Beginning in m. 29, the
guitar has a solo with the melody from the words "and a little window looking to the garden" (from
mm. 17-18). The voice comes in to complete the reminiscence, marked pianissimo and sognando
(dreaming), with the text placed between parentheses, since the textual reprise is completely Argento's
doing. After an authentic cadence in A, (m. 32) the ostinato figure returns, this time presented in a
collaboration between guitar and voice, as the voice provides the last two notes of the figure on the
word "silence." In mm. 34-5 the guitar plays all but the last note of the figure, and, again, the voice
supplies the missing note F in m. 35. The last line of text is set note-for-note to the same melody as the
text from m. 5, " immense, deserted monastery..." This is entirely appropriate, since the words of
the last line are "I am writing from a very strange place." By using this melody again, Argento
musically equates "an immense, deserted monastery" with "a very strange place."
EXAMPLE 1.4: mm. 29-end
A prominent characteristic of Argento's music is an unfailingly interesting and expressive vocal line.
The voice part of this song exhibits at least three characteristics seem to contribute to Argento's vocal-
melodic style: 1. use of compound melody and directional tones 2. a certain degree of independence
from the accompaniment, which contributes to a rich harmonic language 3. perfect sensitivity to text
declamation in his rhythmic settings.
Argento's melodies often span wide ranges very quickly, either by leap or by arpeggiation of some
kind. Such leaps and arpeggiations often give rise to compound melodies, in which certain pitches can
be heard as directional tones. The melody from mm. 20-25 is an example of this type of melody (see
example 1.3). Beginning in m. 20 the lower voice starts on E-flat, moving up by a half-step in m. 21 on
the second syllable of "rosette." It is hard to determine exactly where the upper voice starts, but it goes
up to an E-flat one octave above the lower voice and comes back down to B on the first syllable of
"rosette". Then the lower voice ascends by step to the level of the upper voice (m. 22 "is") and begins
again at a new level on G ("camp-bed"). In the upper voice, the F-sharp in M. 22 acts as a directional
tone to G in the next measure, which is the highest note in the piece, and from there it descends to meet
the lower voice on G in m. 25.
EXAMPLE 1.5: illustrating the voice leading described above
Whether intentional or not, it is interesting that the three most important upper-voice pitches in mm.
23-4, G-F-sharp-E-flat, combine to form the motive from m. 9 on the words "here I am," which was
derived from the opening melody. These three pitches can be singled out as important because G is the
highest, and both of the others are approached by significant leaps in a mostly stepwise passage. In
addition, they make up the pitch-class set [0,1,4] which is an important harmonic element in the last
song of the cycle.
Contrapuntal lines can also emerge from passages in which only small intervals are used. In mm. 7-8
there is a sequence of descending major seconds (spelled as diminished thirds) that sounds like two
lines descending a whole step apart.
EXAMPLE 1.6: showing counterpoint
Argento's melodies also frequently show a degree of harmonic independence from the accompaniment.
In the first beat of m. 7 we can see an example in which the guitarist is playing an A chord, while the
vocal line outlines an A-flat-Mm7 chord.
EXAMPLE 1.7: mm.6-7
In m. 12 the contrast is somewhat milder, as the union of the F-major triad in the voice and the
accompanying A chord could be heard as an A minor chord with an added 6th (See example 1.2).
Aside from its explicit arpeggiation of contrasting harmonies, the vocal line also establishes
independence with the use of single melodic notes that clash with the accompanying harmony. In m.
21 the melody leaps down a perfect fifth from B to E (second syllable of "rosette"), which creates a
pungeant dissonance with the accompanimental chord of B-flat-E-flat-A-flat (See example 1.3).
A few bars later, on the words "a kind of square desk, on which stands a wax candle...", the melody
pursues tonal goals quite at odds with the guitar part. An A-major chord prevails in beats 2-4 of m. 24,
and the melody above it contains pitches from the B-flat-minor scale: B-flat, E-flat, D-flat, C, A.
While the last note, A (m. 24), is not dissonant with the accompaniment, it could arguably be called a
passing tone, since it really seems to connect the preceding B-flat to the following G, which is
dissonant against the D-major chord in the guitar part but is certainly the goal of the melodic phrase
(see example 1.3).
Argento frequently uses triplets and other odd-numbered rhythmic groupings to give phrases just the
right inflection and to create more melodic interest. The melody in mm. 17-19 is a good example of his
rhythmic creativity. Like many of his melodies, it contains partial triplet figures (the first slot of the
figure being occupied by a rest) that serve to carry pairs of one-syllable words having a relatively small
amount of metric emphasis. Each phrase in these two bars (according to Argento's phrase markings)
begins with such a figure, on the words "and a" (m. 17) and "with its" (m. 18).
EXAMPLE 1.3: mm. 17-19
The effect of the partial triplets can be compared to that on the last beat of m. 10 ("no white gloves"), in
which a similar pair of words is set in straight eighth notes. This comparatively bland rhythmic setting
seems to be a conscious effort not to set the same notes to the same rhythms twice, since the melodies
in mm. 2-5 and 9-11 are virtually the same but for their slight differences in rhythm.
EXAMPLE 1.2: mm. 9-11
Looking again at the melody in mm. 17-19 (example 1.3), we can see the overall rhythmic interest
effected by a creative use of odd-numbered groupings, tied notes, eighth-notes and sixteenth-notes, all
of which are set against a steady quarter-note pulse. Especially interesting are the two five-note groups
in which only the first three counts are articulated. There is a slight but certain difference between the
effect of this figure, which seems to convey some rhythmic uncertainty or imbalance, and that of a
more straightforward configuration of two sixteenths and an eighth.
Argento's subtle use of pitch to emphasize certain words can also be seen in this passage. The words
"with" and "palms" are both set to the upper tones in a neighbor figure, and the slight fluctuations in
pitch on these words serve to set them apart from their neighbors, and, consequently, to give them
somewhat more emphasis. Since it occurs on an off-beat, the word "palms" is further accented by
syncopation. Another example of emphasis through pitch differentiation comes on the word
"monastery" in m. 6, in which the first syllable is given the appropriate accent by its placement on the
downbeat and by its separation by pitch from the succeeding syllables by a half-step (see example 1.7).
The only real text-painting the song comes in m. 16 and in mm. 32-34. The glissando from B to F on
the words "arched ceiling" give a plausible musical picture of such an enclosure (see example 1.3). In
mm. 32-4, "silence" is emulated by a simple cessation of activity in the accompaniment. Also, the
word "shout" is sufficiently separated by register from the two preceding words to give the impression
of someone shouting (see example 1.4).
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
In the spring of 1781 Mozart went to Vienna as a member of the Archbishop of Salzburg's retinue.
While in Vienna, the Archbishop guarded Mozart jealously, making him eat with the cooks and valets,
and not allowing him to play in public or to be paid for any performances given to the nobility. As
Mozart himself put it in a letter of March 17, 1781, "My Lord Archbishop is most gracious, glorifies
himself through his dependants, robs them of their service and pays them nothing for it!" (March 17,
1781). He even refused Mozart permission to play in one of a series of concerts to benefit the widows
of musicians, for which the performers were paid nothing, but were able to win "favour with both
Emperor and public" (March 24, 1781). Under pressure from Viennese nobility, the Archbishop did
finally give him permission to play, but shortly after the concert he ordered Mozart and the other
musicians in his retinue to return to Salzburg by the following Sunday. Mozart had acquired a couple
of pupils, and decided that he could exist more easily and happily in Vienna than he could in the service
of the Archbishop. Moreover, he believed that with a public concert of his works he could establish a
reputation and become rich as a composer. Evidently, he had three meetings with the Archbishop in
which he was verbally abused as a scoundrel and a bad servant, and at the third one the Archbishop told
him to be off, to which Mozart replied that he would tender his formal resignation the next day. He
tried several times to hand in his written resignation, but was each time refused admittance and the
"petition" each time rejected. He was finally kicked out forcefully and dishonourably, but he reassured
his father that he was still in good favor with the Viennese nobility, since "the Archbishop is hated here
and most of all by the Emperor" (May 9, 1781). The letter Argento chose to set is the one from June 9,
1781, in which Mozart defends his actions to his father.
Aspects of Form
The letter from Mozart is set in the style of a recitative, a nod to his great skill as an opera composer.
Although the singer is only accompanied by one instrument, this piece seems to be in the style of a
recitativo accompagnato. The accompanied recitative in Mozart's time was typically reserved for
principal characters in situations of great distress or emotion. The accompaniment was measured and
often quite agitated, breaking off at intervals for vocal passages with more metric freedom. In addition,
it was interrupted at times by passages in which both voice and accompaniment proceeded together in
measured rhythms.
This song has some basic characteristics of accompanied recitative: Mozart is the main character, and
he is very angry with two of his antagonists, Count Arco and the Archbishop. Argento even gives a
performance instruction to the singer: con molta ira. Also, the accompanimental figures, while
appearing in a non-metrical context, are intended to be played with rhythmic regularity, as Argento
indicates at the end of m. 3 just above the guitar part--a quaver equals a quaver. The accompanimental
figures are certainly agitated and marked marcatissimo; sempre fortissimo. In addition, there are two
passages of metric regularity that interrupt the recitative: mm. 18-20, 25-28.
As in the Chopin song, Argento uses changes in style to delineate the different functions of various
sentences in the letter. Each sentence Argento set in the recitative portion of the song (i.e. all but the
last 10 bars) has one of two functions: 1. to recount what Mozart's antagonists did, or 2. to tell what
Mozart himself did. Everything that mentions something Count Arco or the Archbishop did to him is
set as non-metric recitative, while the music is strictly measured when the text concerns Mozart's own
The last 10 bars contrast sharply in character with the rest of the song. The lyrical melody and clich
accompanimental figure suggest that it might be called a miniature aria of some kind. Textually, this is
the summing-up--an appeal to his father's reason and a justification of his actions. The musical setting
Argento gave these words makes it easy to imagine a young Wolfgang standing in front of his father
with his eyes cast downward, drawing patterns in the dust with his toe--a mischievous boy sheepishly
trying to explain himself to his father, who is very little amused by the dismissal, and whose
sympathies might lie more with his son's employers.
An overall tonal framework of A is established in part by a recurring figure in the guitar part, which
arpeggiates the V7 chord and continually reiterates a low E pedal tone. The pedal is present throughout
nearly the entire recitative--it is held through all of the sustained chords except one (m. 15)--and is only
truly relinquished when the little "aria" begins in m. 33. Given the strong presence of the dominant
throughout the recitative and its subsequent resolution in the "aria," the piece as a whole might be heard
as a large-scale movement from dominant (recitative) to tonic (aria).
Harmony and Melody
Most of the chords in the piece can be at least loosely-explained in terms of the tonic A. Besides the
presence of the dominant already documented above, there are also Mm7 chords built on G (=VII, mm.
4, 11, 30, 42), G-sharp (VII, m. 6), F-sharp (VI, m. 22), all of which occur above a sustained E pedal
tone. In mm. 7 and 9 there appears a split-third N6, also over a dominant pedal. Another split-third
chord is found in mm. 16 and 17, as Argento has added a G> to the now-familiar dominant chord.
The best explanation for the chord arpeggiated at the very beginning of the song seems to be as a
"guitar chord" (my term), or a chord generated largely by the tuning of the guitar.

(insert chord here)

For this chord, the lower three notes are stopped at the third fret on the bass strings and the upper three
at the next higher fret on the trebles. When adjacent strings are stopped on the same fret, the obvious
result is a chord whose intervals follow the tuning of the guitar, except here the strings of the guitar are
divided into two different sets, each set stopped at a different fret. As "guitar chords" go, this one is not
very friendly, because it can only be played with a rather awkward fingering that is difficult and a bit
painful to hold for the entire passage. The only apparent tonal connection of this chord to the rest of
the piece is the top note G-sharp, which serves as a cue for the singer to begin on the right pitch.
The vocal lines in the unmeasured passages are mostly based on the Lydian mode and are set against
sustained chords of one type or another. The first one (m. 4) occurs at the traditional pitch level, F,
although it could be argued that this melody has a final of D, since it begins and ends on D. I tend to
hear it in F, since F is the highest pitch and the melody runs straight down by step to the F an octave
below, then leaps up a fifth before landing on the low D. This whole melody is set against a G-Mm7
chord, which is made up entirely of pitches from the F Lydian scale. The next phrase (m. 6) is set a
half-step higher, in G= Lydian mode with an accompanying G-sharp-Mm7 chord, an enharmonic
spelling of A=7, which comprises pitches from the G= Lydian scale. The next two phrases (mm. 8-10)
are set as a pair, the first in G=-Lydian and the second in G-Lydian mode. Both have virtually identical
contours, and both are set against the same chord, a B= chord with both major and minor thirds. The
melody in m. 11 is an inversion of m. 4 with the same chord in the accompaniment, only this time D
does sound like the final, and the raised 6th and 7th scale degrees form a melodic minor scale. The
Lydian mode does, however, seem to be the most important element in the song's harmonic structure,
and Argento's pervasive use of this old church mode could be a musical representation of the power
held over Mozart by the Archbishop and his crony Count Arco. Even in the "petition music," the
harmony and melody are based largely on the Lydian mode, as can be heard from m. 18 to beat 3 of m.
19, and from m. 25 to beat 3 of m. 26. In both passages the characteristic Lydian-mode tritone between
scale degrees 1 and 4 is emphasized on the word "petition."
The Andantino beginning in m. 33 displays again one of the characteristics of Argento's music set forth
in the discussion of the Chopin song, namely a certain independence of the vocal line from the
accompaniment. Here, the accompaniment is clearly in A major, while the key of the voice part is
somewhat unclear. Sung by itself, it seems to be in C major, by virtue of the tonic note C landing on
the downbeat in mm. 35, 37, and 39; and because of the stepwise ascent to C from the dominant note G
in mm. 36 and 38. On the other hand, it would be convenient to say the voice part is simply in the
parallel key of A minor, which would create chords with both major and minor thirds in them, a
sonority of which Argento makes frequent use. In either case, the voice part is pursuing a path that is
harmonically somewhat at odds with the accompaniment.
Another aspect of Argento's style articulated earlier, the use of directional tones, is again apparent here
in the melody from bars 8-10. He uses directional tones in a sequence in which the "upper" voice
climbs by step from E to A, while the "lower" one makes a rapid stepwise ascent to converge with the
upper. Another example is the long F-sharp in m. 14 that "resolves" to the G in the next measure after
the E>.
The third characteristic of Argento's vocal music set forth earlier, that of a careful and deliberate
attention to text declamation, is also evident in this song. The characteristic mixture of even- and odd-
numbered rhythmic groupings is present in the measured passages (mm. 18-20, 25-28), and the setting
of the word "petition" is especially effective. Each syllable has a slightly different duration, and the
metric placement of those rhythms effects a perfectly-timed delivery of the word, with each syllable
getting just the right emphasis.

(musical example here)

Franz Schubert

This pathetic letter reveals Schubert in a state of despair and disillusionment. He evidently felt that his
situation was not unlike that of Gretchen in Goethe's Faust, as he quoted the first line of her song
"Meine Ruh ist hin, mein Herz ist schwer" in his letter, saying "So might I now sing every day." The
relevance between the two situations seems to stop at the end of the first stanza of Goethe's poem, as
Gretchen's mind is tormented by her passionate desire for a handsome stranger, while Schubert is
suffering from some kind of depression.
To make the words more effective as a song text, Argento streamlined and slightly rearranged the letter
from the way it appears in his source, The Musician's World:

...picture, I say, a man whose brightest hopes have come to nothing, to whom the joys of love and
friendship can offer only the greatest pain, whose enthusiasm for beauty is in danger of dying
away,...'Meine Ruh ist hin, Mein Herz ist Schwer', so might I now sing every day, for every night I go
to bed hoping that I shall not wake again, and each morning only brings back the grief of the day
before. So I spend my days, joyless and friendless,.. (p. 136)

Compare this with Argento's revised version:

My brightest hopes have come to nothing, the joys of friendship and love soon turn to sorrows, and
even my pleasure in beauty itself is in danger of dying away! 'Meine Ruh' ist hin, mein Herz ist
schwer;' thus sang Gretchen at her spinning wheel. So might I now sing every day, for every night I go
to bed hoping that I shall not wake again, and each morning only brings back all the sorrows and grief
of the day before. And so I spend my days, joyless and friendless.

Argento changes the phrase "picture a man whose" to simply "my," presumably to make it more direct
and personal. He also adds the phrase "thus sang Gretchen at her spinning wheel," which does not
appear in the original letter at all:
"...dem Begeisterung (wenigstens anregende) fr das Schne zu schwinden droht, und frage Dich, ob
das nicht ein elender, unglcklicher Mensch ist? --Meine Ruh ist hin, mein Herz is schwer, ich finde
sie nimmer und nimmermehr, so kann ich wohl jetzt alle Tage singen..."

Perhaps he wanted a phrase to which he could set his own spinning-wheel figure, a chromatic 16th-note
passage that occurs on the words "at her spinning wheel."
It is interesting that the original letter also contained lines three and four of Goethe's poem, "Ich finde
sie nimmer/Und nimmermehr." (Franz Schubert's Letters and Other Writings, London 1928, pp. 77-
80). For some reason, the editor of The Musician's World left these lines out, as did Argento in his
musical setting. It seems to me that those two lines would only have made the letter more touching and
pitiable, but perhaps Mr. Gal thought they would only belabor the point. Argento's own omission of the
lines could be more easily explained, perhaps, as a decision driven by his artistic needs.
Aspects of Form
The song is cast in what appears to be a modified strophic form with an introduction and coda. The
long opening for solo guitar serves to introduce the main thematic material of the piece. It is very slow,
and the meter is somewhat ambiguous until bar 6, when the first steady succession of eighth notes
occurs. From there on there is a pulse steady enough to keep the listener properly oriented. There is no
clear tonal center until just before the voice enters in m. 22, when the key of D is established.
The first "stanza" goes from mm. 22-35, and it is followed by a literal quotation from Schubert's
Gretchen am Spinnrade (mm. 36-40), a passage that serves as a kind of refrain for this song much as it
did in Schubert's. The following passage, in which Argento sets his own words ("thus sang Gretchen at
her spinning wheel") to his spinning-wheel figure, makes up the rest of the textual and musical refrain.
The second "stanza" (mm. 44-56) is set to basically the same music as the first and is also followed by
the refrain (mm. 57-66), for which reason I call the piece a modified strophic form. The main
differences between the second stanza and the first are a change of key and a general intensification in
mood, effected by a thicker accompanimental texture, an expansion of the vocal range, and a dynamic
marking of forte with accents on each chord in the accompaniment. The refrain has also been slightly
altered, inasmuch as there is one extra bar of Schubert's spinning-wheel figure given before the voice
Bars 66-end serve as a coda, with a reprise of the opening for solo guitar (mm. 66-69), followed by the
final vocal phrase, "and so I spend my days, joyless and friendless." This last passage (mm. 70-end) is
set in duple meter in the new key of C major, a rather ironic key choice for such a sad and even bitter
Aspects of Harmony
Tonal ambiguity in this song seems to be primarily confined to the passages for solo guitar. Each vocal
stanza has a clear tonal center, although there is a tug-of-war between major and minor modes that is
never settled for certain, but which seems to favor the major mode: each phrase in the first stanza (mm.
22-35, key of D) ends on F-sharp, and the first two phrases of stanza two (mm. 44-56, key of A) end on
C-sharp. In addition, the song ends in the major mode. In each case, the minor mode has seemingly
deferred to the major at the last moment, as the minor 3 moves up to the major 3 (insert ^ markers!).
Shifts of mode were common in Schubert's music, and perhaps Argento's continual mode-shifting is
meant to reflect that aspect of Schubert's style. He pushes this modal uncertainty to the extreme in his
spinning-wheel figure:
(example: mm. 41-3)
The accompaniment in both stanzas consists mainly of tonic open 5ths (? or 4ths in 2nd stanza), with
the occasional addition of -sharp4, which either disappears as suddenly as it came or serves as an
appogiatura to 5. (musical example: mm. 28-31). The use of this chord increases tension and serves as
a cadential harmony, much like the dominant chord in a traditional harmonic progression.
No transition was necessary from the first stanza to the first refrain, as both are in the same key. But
the second stanza is in a different key, and Argento altered the final phrase of the strophe to make a
very effective and exciting transition into the refrain.
(musical example: mm. 53-7)
The addition of two new voices from mm. 54-5 thickens the texture to six voices, building tension and
establishing the minor mode. The D-sharp in m. 55 (-sharp4) clashes sharply with the D in the voice
part, just as the G and G-sharp clashed in the corresponding passage from stanza 1 (m. 32). In m. 56
the D-sharp turns out to be the 7th of an F-Mm7 chord, and it resolves down by step to the tonic D in
m. 57, while the voice part has a high F that is held for two measures, changing from the root of an F-
Mm7 chord (m. 56) to the 3rd of a D-minor chord (m. 57). The harmonic arrival that occurs beneath
the sustained F at m. 57 marks the resolution of all the tension from the last few bars, and Schubert's
spinning-wheel music returns to begin the refrain.
The introduction is more ambiguous tonally than the two strophes and refrains. The harmonic support
for the guitar introduction is based upon successions of major 3rds (or 10ths) with chromatic-mediant
relationships to one another. The following example shows how the melody is supported and
punctuated by these successions of major 3rds.
(example: mm. 11-18)
In mm. 13-14 the sonority formed by the melody and supporting third on each strong beat is the pc set
[0,1,4], a set common in contemporary music and one that appears with some frequency in this cycle,
especially in the last song.
As in the previous songs, the melodies in this song are often somewhat independent from the
accompaniment. Measures 44-7 show how the melodic line gains a degree of rhythmic independence
from the accompaniment by syncopations that effectively obscure the downbeats and leave the listener
slightly disoriented.
(example: mm. 44-7)
The only spots where the melody has real harmonic independence from the accompaniment is in the
last phrase of each stanza, where the rising sequence of three-note groups has few pitches in common
with the guitar part. These passages mark the points of highest tension in each stanza, as the
dissonance, a rising melodic line and increasing dynamics create a feeling of great urgency, one that
"dies away" in the first stanza, but builds to a dramatic climax and resolution in the second.

(example: mm. 30-34; see also transition example)

The melodic contours in this song show Argento's tendency to span wide intervals quickly, either by
arpeggiation or by direct leaps, and his use of directional tones and compound melodies. One example
will serve to illustrate all of the above-mentioned characteristics:
(example: mm. 48-52)
In mm. 48-9 the melody goes from a low A up to a B= through arpeggiation of an A minor chord, and
quickly back down to a low C. The B= at the summit of this arpeggio serves as a directional tone to C
on the downbeat of the next measure, and an upper voice seems to emerge in the notes A-B=-C-C-
sharp-C in mm. 49-50. Next, the lower voice picks up again and moves toward a cadence that might be
heard as two voices converging on C-sharp in stepwise motion. In this case, the usual phrase-ending
(C-C-sharp) was ornamented with a D4 to accommodate the extra syllable, creating a compound
(example showing compound melody)