Four twentieth-century choral settings of Walt Whitman's poems by American composers

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.)



First Committee Member

Jo-Michael Scheibe - Committee Chair


The purpose of this study is to better understand the relation of text and music and the characteristics of outstanding choral settings. To this end, four settings of Whitman's poetry are considered: Song of Democracy by Howard Hanson (composed in 1957 for the hundredth anniversary of the National Education Association and the fiftieth anniversary of the Music Educators National Conference, and scored for mixed chorus and orchestra, later rescored for band); Carols of Death by William Schuman (composed in 1958 on commission by the Laurentian Singers of St. Lawrence University in upstate New York, for four-part mixed voices, a cappella ); A Procession Winding Around Me: Four Civil War Poems by Jeffrey Van (commissioned in 1990 by the Lancaster [Ohio] Chorale for four-part mixed chorus and guitar); and Three Whitman Settings by Rene Clausen (commissioned for the Stephen F. Austin State University A Cappella Choir in 1992, and scored for mixed chorus a cappella).Following an introductory first chapter, Chapters 2 and 3 consider Walt Whitman. Chapter 2 addresses Whitman's life, works, and poetic style, and Chapter 3 addresses the important role music played in Whitman's personal experience and its impact on his poetry. This chapter also includes an overview of the many choral settings of Whitman's poems.Chapters 4 through 7 discuss each selected musical composition in the order listed above, considering the composer's biography, output, and style, discussing the poems set, and presenting a musical analysis, including examples and form charts of each work. Conclusions drawn from the study are presented in Chapter 8.The author conducted performances of the compositions by Schuman and Van on October 5, 1998, and performances of the works by Hanson and Clausen April 30, 1999.


Music; Literature, American

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