Voicing Virginia: Adaptation of Woolf’s Words to Music
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Building on abundant research that points to the inherent musicality of Virginia Woolf’s writing style, this dissertation explores how her texts adapt to actual music. With the groundbreaking 1975 cycle From the Diary of Virginia Woolf by Dominick Argento, common techniques emerge, which prove the force Woolf’s voice exerts over the musical settings of her words. Four tropes are identified in Argento’s cycle, which recur in adaptations of Woolf’s novels by Geoffrey Bush, in his song, “Cuisine Provençale;” Ned Rorem, in his song, “The Waves;” Daron Hagen in his diptych for soprano, cello, and piano, Rapture and Regret; Libby Larsen in her opera, Mrs. Dalloway; and Morton Subotnick in his monodrama, Jacob’s Room. The last three works also point to a common practice in adapting Woolf’s text, not only in music, but also in drama, dance, and film—that of forming a collage by setting excerpts from her own novels, diaries, and letters alongside each other, or by juxtaposing her writing with that of other authors. The research analyzes a sampling of bel canto-style and avant-garde repertoire which uses the modernist icon’s words as source text, and reveals how the strong and unique voice of Virginia Woolf joins with that of the composer to steer the process of adaptation.