Coherence and independence in the song cycle: A study of four song cycles by Schumann, Hoiby, Poulenc and Falla
Since the conception and composition of the genre in the early 1800s, song cycles have received complete performances, partial performances comprised of either consecutive or non-consecutive songs, and performances of individuals songs removed from the context of the larger work. This study focuses on four song collections in order to examine the elements of text, harmony, and style that can either unite the songs in a cycle or give them independence from it. It examines thematic and chronological aspects of Robert Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben, text painting and instrumentation of Lee Hoiby's The Life of the Bee, form and musical components of Francis Poulenc's La Courte Paille, and stylistic and cultural origins of Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Españolas. Examples are given of characteristics that occur in one or more of the first three cycles--lending them to complete performances--including tonal relationships between songs, poetic connections, absence of piano interludes, brevity of individual songs, alternating tempi, consistent use of specific musical elements, and restated musical themes. In contrast, Falla's Siete Canciones is presented as an example of a collection of songs that contains some unifying factors, primarily cultural, but not enough to demand its performance as a complete song cycle. The final conclusion maintains that the coherent qualities of true song cycles are best appreciated when heard in their entirety.