Interactions between Text and Music in Three Pieces by Jon Deak, Frank Proto, and Tom Johnson



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The twentieth century brought about an increase in the solo repertoire for the double bass. Composers began seeking ways to challenge double bassists, and one way to do this was to add narration. This essay focuses on three pieces for narrator and double bass that belong to this growing genre: Jon Deak’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1984); Frank Proto’s Afro-American Fragments (1996); and Tom Johnson’s Failing: A Very Difficult Piece for Solo String Bass (1975). This essay explores the interactions between music and verbal text. Three categories of text-music interaction are proposed: music as accompaniment to text, music in dialogue with text, and music in imitation of text. These categories demonstrate how text and music operate as individual elements and how they work together to create a cohesive musical piece in which both text and music are treated equally. Sections of The Hound of the Baskervilles and Afro-American Fragments and the entirety of Failing are analyzed. Analysis of Deak’s piece shows how music assumes the narrative function of text to convey setting and action. Analysis of Proto’s piece shows how text and music can be layered to increase the effectiveness of the text through music. Analysis of Johnson’s piece shows how limited musical materials can be varied to interact with a complex text. This essay proposes a framework that treats text and music equally so that together these elements create a narrative. This essay also demonstrates how, in combining double bass with spoken text, composers have expanded the virtuosity and expressive range of the instrument.



Double bass, Narrator, Deak, Jon, Proto, Frank, Johnson, Tom