In order to fully encapsulate Leonardo’s conquest of the almighty heavens it would only be fitting to have the text set to a full orchestra accompanied by a SATB choir. This is the only combination of instrumentation and vocals that will fully capture the piece’s dramatic story (save a Wagnarian music drama). A full orchestra is a glorious medium that can be used to accommodate the full range of emotions embodied in the poem because of the breadth of orchestral timbre. In parallel with the orchestra, a four-person choir is ideal for the lyrical expression of the poem due to the wide range of notes that can be sung by the soprano, the bass and everyone in between. The parts of the poem sung by the full choir would be done in an imitative polyphony texture utilizing malismas on the repeated line “Leonardo, Leonardo, viene á volare” to accentuate the fact that this line is a “siren-song” sung by “the very air itself.” However, the majority of the text would be sung by the tenor to give the piece a story telling quality, with the rest of the choir chiming in for the Italian parts. This will serve to emphasize the contrast between English and Italian that Sylvestri creates in his poem. It seems appropriate to have the orchestra and choir perform a through-composed setting with a change in music for each st...
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...ings that can be seen in the use of word painting in the first stanza on the words “flight and falling” and “to carry a man up into the sun.” While the similarities between the pieces are fleeting both are able to take advantage of imitative polyphony and word painting to tell the same story in very unique and different ways.
In conclusion, the poem “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine” by Charles Alan Sylvestri can be set to music in wildly different ways to accentuate different aspects of the plot. The first text setting described portrays a dramatic story of Leonardo conquering his dreams of flight (or so it seems), and the second, by Eric Whitacre, telling the same story in a less dramatic and more ethereal style. This text provides a great example of how the musical setting can completely change not only the listener’s experience, but the story itself.
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