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Playlists Highlight Music in Willa Cather's Writing

Playlists Highlight Music in Willa Cather's Writing

Cather was a fan of the music of Richard Wagner, and she frequently referenced his work in her writing.

We are pleased to introduce four playlists developed for Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark. All musical and dramatic numbers included are referenced in some manner in this novel. In order to facilitate a fluid listening experience, the music corresponding to each part is not always presented in the chronological order in which it is mentioned in the book. The playlists are by no means all-inclusive of the works Cather mentioned in her novel, but they do offer a sampling of both the incisive and the subtler musical detail that Cather has woven into The Song of the Lark. It should be noted that, in utilizing a 21st-century music stream for a literary work generated over a century ago, it is not possible to depict, literally, the musical numbers or the scenarios as outlined in the book. Rather, the playlists capture a mood or essence; asl well as offer enlightenment as to the author’s immense and diverse stream of musical consciousness. We hope you enjoy!

Playlist I: Part I, Friends of Childhood

Playlist I: Part I, Friends of Childhood
Playlist I: Part I, Friends of Childhood

The playlist developed in conjunction with Part I reflects the colorful people and cultures in which the irrepressible young Thea Kronborg immerses herself as she is growing up in Moonstone, CO, a fictional community based on Cather’s hometown of Red Cloud, NE. From Spanish Johnny and the Mexican settlement to Thea’s well-intentioned piano teacher with a penchant for alcohol; from her pastor father’s Swedish Reformed congregation to her staunch friend and admirer, railroad worker Ray Kennedy: these individuals, along with many others in her small community help nurture Thea’s spirited talent. The friendship, the encouragement, and even the judgmental and repressive attitudes, all become a springboard for her move to Chicago to pursue a formal music education. Click the link below to listen to Playlist I:

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6VwIUIlGsRekyWTYJKHTpR

Playlist II: Part II, The Song of the Lark

Playlist II: Part II, The Song of the Lark
Playlist II: Part II, The Song of the Lark

The playlist for Part II of The Song of the Lark portrays Thea Kronborg’s coming of age amidst continued piano study, church music work, and transition to vocal music. As she enters the world of formal study in the urban Chicago landscape, her musical parameter shifts to a classic, academic focus, while the tapestry of diverse styles experienced in Part I of the novel fades into the background. Click the link below to listen to Playlist II:

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2Yfe8qkj6fK7UoD59Zwz72

Playlist III: Part III, Stupid Faces; Part IV, The Ancient People

Playlist III: Part III, Stupid Faces; Part IV, The Ancient People
Playlist III: Part III, Stupid Faces; Part IV, The Ancient People

The music serving as backdrop to Part III of The Song of the Lark mirrors Thea’s decisive shift from piano to vocal studies, although her work as an accompanist and church musician continues as a means of financial support. The frenetic pace of work and study lead the young artist to the brink of defeat, as her sensitive, artistic spirit is nearly swallowed up by an innate drive to perfect her musical skills. Part IV finds Thea fleeing the relentless pressure of her professional pursuits. She travels to the canyons of northern Arizona, drinking in the natural beauty, sleeping in the ancient cliff dwellings, spending cherished time with soul mate Fred Ottenburg and recovering her once-indomitable spirit. Scarce mention is made of music in Part IV; figuratively speaking, Canto IV of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, referenced elsewhere in the novel, seems especially fitting for this season of Thea’s life. Click the link below to listen to Playlist III:

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/562X0BHg69FCDAZPAOUVqY

Playlist IV: Part V, Doctor Archie's Venture; Part VI, Kronborg; Epilogue

Playlist IV: Part V, Doctor Archie's Venture; Part VI, Kronborg; Epilogue
Playlist IV: Part V, Doctor Archie's Venture; Part VI, Kronborg; Epilogue

The playlist for Parts V and VI of The Song of the Lark highlights Thea Kronborg’s ascent to the height of her musical career.  By default, she lands the plume role of Sieglinde in Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre. In the audience for her stunning performance are friends from her childhood days in Moonstone, as well as the teacher who discovered her vocal talents. Two musical renderings of the Scottish folk song, “Ca’ the Yowes to the Knowes” light the way for Cather’s epilogic re-visit, years later, to Thea’s small hometown in Colorado. These, along with a final folk ballad may seem an incongruous pairing with the great operatic music of Parts V and VI, but they bring full circle the story of Thea's triumphant success. The diverse tapestry of Thea Kronborg’s early life and personhood re-emerge with these closing numbers. The rendering of “Casey Jones”, with its haunting train whistle, calls to heart’s memory the loyal railroader Ray Kennedy, whose stricken life ultimately gave wings to a young artist. Click the link below to listen to Playlist IV:

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/305IWlTPdlpuPTl4vN640n