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Using Classical Poems As Lyrics

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softwareNerd
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Here's an idea for a musician who wants world-class lyrics for free.

Hundreds of old poems are suitable for music. Indeed, some were originally ballards sung by minstrels. If you're a musician but don't write great lyrics, take your favorite classical poems and start a new genre.

I reckon there's a good-sized market out there: listeners of classical radio, PBS/NPR viewers. Retailers might place your CDs beside the Gregorian chants; but if it sells, don't complain. NPR might even offer your CD to anyone making a $100 tax-free contribution; don't let that bother you either

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  • 2 weeks later...

Interesting idea. I wouldn't do it, just because I take a great deal of pride in my lyrics (even the bad ones). But, it would be fun, musically, to write an album to, say, Emily Dickinson.

On the other hand Rush already did XANADU (based almost word for word from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Kahn")

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Interesting idea. I wouldn't do it, just because I take a great deal of pride in my lyrics (even the bad ones). But, it would be fun, musically, to write an album to, say, Emily Dickinson.
I understand. I don't think it is "either-or", one could do it for fun and still do original lyrics most of the time.

On the other hand Rush already did XANADU (based almost word for word from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Kahn")
I didn't know that. I like that poem, so I'll file that away for future action.
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The idea of someone like 50 Cent doing a rap version of a Shakespearian sonnet is quite amusing.

But yeah, I'm surprised this sort of thing doesnt get done more often. You occasionally get adaptions of old folk songs (eg Metallica - Whiskey in the Jar), but not poetry as such.

Edited by Hal
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The idea of someone like 50 Cent doing a rap version of a Shakespearian sonnet is quite amusing.

But yeah, I'm surprised this sort of thing doesnt get done more often. You occasionally get adaptions of old folk songs (eg Metallica - Whiskey in the Jar), but not poetry as such.

Lee Zeppelin also did this - I think "Gallows Pole" is an old folk song.

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  • 1 month later...
It isn't an "either-or" though.

Sometimes I read a poem (this one, for instance) and say to myself: "It would be cool is someone set this to music".

I understand your point, certain poetry is almost itching to be set to music.

However my comment was that for myself, as someone who writes music, I would fundamentally NOT allow myself to do this.

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Back in my old country, there was a band, that did this to a few of their songs. They didn't convert the entire poem into lyrics though - only picked parts for the chorus. Also - I heard the song, before I ever came accross the poem in school, and even though the words and meaning were the same, the context totally changes your reception.

I did listen to some sang poetry, and enjoyed it as well - the music makes a big (positive) difference - it's like listening to the radio vs. watching the TV.

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I think another twist on this might be even better. Imagine Rachminoffs Second given a solid bass beat in the background and positive lyrics being flowed over the rising spirit of the music. I might do, one day.

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It isn't an "either-or" though.

Sometimes I read a poem (this one, for instance) and say to myself: "It would be cool is someone set this to music".

Aphex Twin uses the first 2 lines from this in of the songs on his Selected Ambient Works. Its a fairly minimalistic piece (those are the only lyrics, although they are repeated several times), and, like a lot of his stuff, it's something of an acquired taste. I could upload the first couple of minutes if you like, I assume such a short sample constitutes fair use.

Edited by Hal
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  • 3 weeks later...

Alot of metal bands do that, mainly power metal. I personally have a problem with it; yes, its public domain, but nonetheless someone wrote those lyrics. Just like someone wrote lyrics to a song that is copyrighted, they are both written by someone. You wouldn't take the song that came out a few years ago (if it wasn't copyrighted) and use the lyrics. The same thing would also apply to poems and exceprts from classical song (metal bands will take a classical song, usually an except and stick it in their song which I think is wrong for the same reason)

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Alot of metal bands do that, mainly power metal. I personally have a problem with it; yes, its public domain, but nonetheless someone wrote those lyrics. Just like someone wrote lyrics to a song that is copyrighted, they are both written by someone. You wouldn't take the song that came out a few years ago (if it wasn't copyrighted) and use the lyrics. The same thing would also apply to poems and exceprts from classical song (metal bands will take a classical song, usually an except and stick it in their song which I think is wrong for the same reason)

Do you have a similar problem with Beethoven's use of Schiller's "Ode to Joy" in his 9th symphony for instance?

Putting the words of poetry to music strikes me as being a fantastic act of creativity, even if they were originally written by someone else. Just because someone is good at writing music, it doesnt necessarily mean they are going to be good at writing lyrics/poetry, and I dont think there's any shame in borrowing words from someone else and concentrating your own attention on the musical accompaniment.

edit: In fact I'd go further, and say that adapting someone else's work is probably just as good as creating something new, provided that your adaption is creative, individual, and well done. Works like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Goethe's Faust part 1, and Sophocles' Antigone arent praised because of their originality in story-telling (they all 'borrowed' their plots from pre-existing stories) - they are praised because of what the artists have managed to do with the material they have taken over. They have started with something that already existed, yet adapted it and used it for their own ends. I think that putting lyrics to music is very similar to this, and I would tend to apply the same standard. Another good analogy would be a director who is adapting a novel into a film - should Peter Jackson's achivement with Lord of the Rings be diminished because he never wrote the original story?

Edited by Hal
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I don't disagree with you, I have nothing against adaptation. It's just a personal thing, I'd rather have it be 100% me. Now, I am doing a little adapting right now of certain parts of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, I don't agree with all of it, but I love the sense of life that is in it and I'm trying to recreate that.

I agree with you that adaptation can be great as long as the person puts their own twist on it. As far as the Peter Jackson reference, he shouldn't have credit taken away, but wouldn't it be alot better if he would have came up with the story as well. Not saying he shouldn't have made a movie adaptation of it nor should any other director wanting to make a movie adaptation of something, I'm just saying think what kind of accomplishment it is when the director writes a great screenplay and makes it.

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Here's an idea for a musician who wants world-class lyrics for free.

Hundreds of old poems are suitable for music. Indeed, some were originally ballards sung by minstrels. If you're a musician but don't write great lyrics, take your favorite classical poems and start a new genre.

I reckon there's a good-sized market out there: listeners of classical radio, PBS/NPR viewers. Retailers might place your CDs beside the Gregorian chants; but if it sells, don't complain. NPR might even offer your CD to anyone making a $100 tax-free contribution; don't let that bother you either

I think anyone who finds a really good, musical, lyric poem that's in the public domain should post it here. Even if a musician did not copy it verbatim, he might still be inspired or get ideas for new rhythms or connections of words. Some poems are good because they have an inspired theme, or evoke beautiful images, and some are good simply because they flow together so well. A compilation of poems of the latter variety would certainly be of interest to me, and other musicians and lyricists as well, I think.

I think another twist on this might be even better. Imagine Rachminoffs Second given a solid bass beat in the background and positive lyrics being flowed over the rising spirit of the music. I might do, one day.

LOL, that sounds like a really bad idea. Maybe someone could make it work.. but I just have this mental image of Rachmaninoff

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  • 3 weeks later...

Composing songs using existing poetry was standard operating procedure for hundreds of classical composers including Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, on and on....

and I wish rockers would not bother to create their versions of classical pieces...I don't need their butcher jobs...

Edited by arete1952
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  • 1 year later...

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