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John Corigliano

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (for soprano and piano) (2000)
Work Notes
When sung with orchestra, a piano/vocal score from the G. Schirmer Rental and Performance Library should be used. The published piano/vocal score (504844694) differs from the orchestral version in some of its rhythmic notation.
Text Writer
Bob Dylan
G Schirmer Inc
Solo Voice(s) and up to 6 players
Year Composed
37 Minutes
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Programme Note
John Corigliano Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (for soprano and piano) (2000)

Related Versions:
   for soprano and orchestra
   for soprano and wind ensemble
   for soprano and chamber ensemble
   for soprano and piano

Composer Note:
When Sylvia McNair asked me to write her a major song cycle for Carnegie Hall, she had only one request; to choose an American text.

I have set only four poets in my adult compositional life: Stephen Spender, Richard Wilbur, Dylan Thomas (whose major works generated the oratorio A Dylan Thomas Trilogy) and William M. Hoffman, collaborator with me on, among other, shorter pieces, the opera The Ghosts of Versailles. Aside from asking Bill to create a new text, I had no ideas.

Except that I had always heard, by reputation, of the high regard accorded the folk-ballad singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. But I was so engaged in developing my orchestral technique during the years when Dylan was heard by the rest of the world that I had never heard his songs.

So I bought a collection of his texts, and found many of them to be every bit as beautiful and as immediate as I had heard-and surprisingly well-suited to my own musical language. I then contacted Jeff Rosen, his manager, who approached Bob Dylan with the idea of re-setting his poetry to my music.

I do not know of an instance in which this has been done before (which was part of what appealed to me), so I needed to explain that these would be in no way arrangements, or variations, or in any way derivations of the music of the original songs, which I decided to not hear before the cycle was complete. Just as Schumann or Brahms or Wolf had re-interpreted in their own musical styles the same Goethe text, I intended to treat the Dylan lyrics as the poems I found them to be. Nor would their settings make any attempt at pop or rock writing. I wanted to take poetry I knew to be strongly associated with popular art and readdress it in terms of concert art-crossover in the opposite direction, one might say. Dylan granted his permission, and I set to work.

I chose seven poems for what became a thirty-five minute cycle. A Prologue: Mr. Tambourine Man, in a fantastic and exuberant manner, precedes five searching and reflective monologues that form the core of the piece; and Epilogue: Forever Young makes a kind of folk-song benediction after the cycle's close. Dramatically, the inner five songs trace a journey of emotional and civic maturation, from the innocence of Clothes Line through the beginnings of awareness of a wider world (Blowin' in the Wind), through the political fury of Masters of War, to a premonition of an apocalyptic future (All Along the Watchtower), culminating in a vision of a victory of ideas (Chimes of Freedom). Musically, each of the five songs introduces an accompanimental motive that becomes the principal motive of the next. The descending scale introduced in Clothes Line resurfaces as the passacaglia which shapes Blowin' in the Wind. The echoing pulse-notes of that song harden into the hammered ostinato under Masters of War; the stringent chords of that song's finale explode into the raucous accompaniment under All Along the Watchtower; and that song's repeated figures dissolve into the bell-sounds of Chimes of Freedom.

Thanks are due to Carnegie Hall; to Sylvia McNair, for her commitment as well as her luminous artistry; and to Mark Adamo, to whom Mr. Tambourine Man is warmly dedicated.

-- John Corigliano

The times they are a-changin', and the boundaries between classical and popular music are not what they used to be. [For his song cycle MR. TAMBOURINE MAN,] Corigliano chose Dylan's lyrics, citing them as poetry. The result is a colorful and richly imaginative song cycle. Corigliano seems to have a gift for setting words to melody, and song after song - "Blowin' in the Wind," "Chimes of Freedom," and others - was well-crafted and compelling. Make no mistake, these were no reimagined campfire songs. Dissonant shouts in the piano and vocal parts underscored Dylan's social protest lyrics, and the soprano line itself was often disjunct, making unpredictable pauses and leaps. For this listener, who knew the original Dylan tunes, the overall effect was fascinating. For the first several lines of each song, I found myself hearing the Dylan melodies that were so clearly conjured by his lyrics. [But] as each song proceeded, Dylan's voice and melody would gradually fade away in my mind, yielding center stage to Corigliano's inventive music. McNair left no doubt that these were art songs worthy of the highest performance standards.
Jeremy Eichler, New York Newsday,01/01/0001
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