The Veil Opens: An Analysis of Storytelling Features in Eric Whitacre’s The Sacred Veil



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The Sacred Veil is an hour-long work by Eric Whitacre for mixed choir, piano, and cello. Composed in 2017–2018, the piece follows lyricist Charles Anthony (“Tony”) Silvestri and loss of his wife Julie Silvestri to ovarian cancer. The libretto is composed of texts by Tony, Julie, and the composer himself, and contains—verbatim—Julie’s diagnosis, and her emails chronicling her struggle with cancer. The Sacred Veil is Whitacre’s longest choral work to date, and features novel developments in Whitacre’s writing, particularly with regard to storytelling. In multiple videos and interviews that describe the making of The Sacred Veil, Whitacre shares his process for composing the work, and mentions numerous musical decisions that were made to musically represent Tony and Julie’s story. The primary themes of the piece represent characters and ideas, including Julie, fate, and death. Harmonies and textures symbolize the emotional state of the characters. Whitacre also uses the sacred number three to make various formal, textural, and melodic decisions, which he then leverages to condition and subvert the listener’s expectations for storytelling purposes. All of these elements change in approach throughout the work as the story progresses. This paper aims to show how Whitacre musically represents Tony and Julie’s story through motivic, harmonic, formal, and textural transformation. In order to accomplish this, I will: 1) reveal the stories and meanings behind the creation of each movement according to Whitacre and Silvestri, including Whitacre’s application of the number three; 2) demonstrate how they intended this information to manifest textually and musically; and 3) offer a chronological analysis of the music that shows how prominent features in the music relate to the story and text. This analysis will show how appearances and modifications of primary themes signify actions or ideas; how changes in harmony and texture create different emotional states; and how applications of the number three accentuate the meaning of the text, as informed by the intentions of the composer and lyricist.



Eric Whitacre, Eric, Whitacre, Charles Anthony Silvestri, Charles, Tony, Anthony, Silvestri, Julie, Lawrence, Sacred, Veil, The Sacred Veil, Choir, Cello, Piano, Choral, L.A. Master Chorale, VOCES8, Kantorei, Story, Narrative, Motivic, Transformation, Text painting