(I) "The Girl and Her Balloon" and (II) Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 2 "The Age of Anxiety": Intricacy Grounded in Programmaticism



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The following two-part thesis focuses on programmaticism, that is, the depiction through music of extramusical elements. In the first part, I present an original orchestral composition that musically tells the story of a young girl who gets lost at a carnival. Finding solace in the whimsy of a balloon, she quickly forgets her troubles until a gust of wind carries the balloon away. While the music paints a general trajectory of the story, there are several flourishes and subtleties meant to evoke specific actions and events, such as the balloon blowing away. The audience members, therefore, are able to visualize what is happening with help from the composer but also with their own imaginations. The second part is an analysis of American composer Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 “The Age of Anxiety”, a musical response to W. H. Auden’s poem “The Age of Anxiety: a Baroque Eclogue” of 1947. The symphony, completed in 1949, received criticism for its discontinuity and too-extreme juxtaposition. I argue, however, that the symphony is an intricate work grounded in devotion to Auden’s text and Bernstein’s desire to champion a discernable American musical language. Bernstein depicts Auden’s themes of faith and anonymity through the use of traditional compositional methods recast in the rapidly changing musical climate of the first half of the 20th century. Bernstein calls his symphony autobiographical, and it is indeed a true reflection of him as a philosopher and humanitarian.


"The Girl and Her Balloon" was premiered by the Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra in May 2010, under the direction of Eric Benjamin, at a concert in Chapin Auditorium.


music theory, analysis, composition, programmaticism, 20th century, music, Leonard Bernstein, orchestra