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Publication Date



UM campus only

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)


Music Theory and Composition (Music)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Lansing D. McLoskey

Second Committee Member

Robert H. Gower

Third Committee Member

Alan O. Johnson


The Heart's Portrait is a twelve movement composition for SATB choir and string quartet. The eight poems selected as the text for this work were penned by the eminent American poet Emily Dickinson. The text for the first movement, Dickinson's poem "If I can stop one Heart from breaking," succinctly describes the themes she commonly expounded upon in her writings: life, love, aching, pain, and purpose through faith. The remaining seven poems were chosen because they also explore these elemental themes. The main poem returns in variation throughout the piece, resulting in a modified rondo. To complement the four-part consort of voices, I selected a consort of strings in the form of a string quartet. The role of the quartet varies throughout the work from subservient to the vocal part, to dominant of the entire texture, to an equal partnership with the voices; these relationships are dictated by the text. Throughout the movements, I was able to explore a range of compositional techniques, both traditional and contemporary, while maintaining the primary purpose of unifying the text and music. This paper illustrates the initial compositional decisions made to begin the piece, the texts chosen and their placement within the work, the poet's history as it relates to the composition, a brief discussion on composers who have set Dickinson's words, and a thorough analysis of the work itself.


Cello; Viola; Violin; Strings; String Quartet; Choral; Chorus; Choir; Emily Dickinson; Poetry; Music; American; Heart; Grace Miller; Fascicle; Composition; SATB; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Baritone; Bass