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John Corigliano

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (for soprano and orchestra) (2003)
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
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
37 Minutes
Soprano (amplified)
Purchase CD
Programme Note
John Corigliano Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (for soprano and orchestra) (2003)

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 Ghost 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 Prelude: 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

  • Ensemble
    Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
    Hila Plitmann, soprano
    JoAnn Falletta
Hila Plitmann, Corigliano's chosen soprano, is a composer's dream. Throughout her enormous range, her singing is precise, expressive and lit with intelligence. Even when overpowered by the orchestra's clamor, the diminutive Plitmann commands the stage. Her wondrous diction - nothing like Bob Dylan's - lends his lines a crytalline beauty.
Larry Fuchsberg, Minneapolis Star Tribune,01/01/0001
Bob Dylan's MR. TAMBOURINE MAN lyrics come in the form of seven decidedly un-Dylanesque settings by the eminent American composer John Corigliano. MR. TAMBOURINE MAN debunks the claim that there's nothing new under the sun. [But] Corigliano's deconstruction pays homage to the iconic singer-songwriter, making his verses wonderfully strange and strangely wonderful. Corigliano has fashioned a cycle of five songs plus prologue and epilogue that charts a political and emotional awakening. At its center is the fierce "Masters of War," as topical today as it was in the '60s. In this and "Chimes of Freedom," the music reaches a shattering intensity. Few composers wring a more gut-jolting sound from the orchestra. Yet I was most moved by the quieter pieces, especially the gorgeously melancholy "Clothes Line" and the benedictory, Bernstein-like "Forever Young," haunted by the knowledge that eternal youth is not our lot. For those who carry Dylan's songs in their heads, listening to MR. TAMBOURINE MAN becomes a multilevel, memory-infused adventure. One is immersed in two musics at once. Especially in "Blowin' in the Wind," heard melodies are set against those unheard. It's disorienting but absorbing - a call to examine the numberless absences, musical and other, that stealthily modulate our awareness.
Larry Fuchsberg, Minneapolis Star Tribune,01/01/0001
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