by Kurt Weill
Source: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (released 1942), Victor Records M-909 (two 78 rpm discs)
Note: The album, released a few months after the U.S. entry into World War II, consisted of Helen Hayes’s spoken recitations of patriotic song lyrics over orchestral accompaniments prepared by Weill. The texts included were “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America,” the Pledge of Allegiance, and Weill’s original setting of Walt Whitman’s poem, “Beat! Beat! Drums!”.
What I wanted to do was write musical settings for the spoken word, which would allow both arts (poetry and music) to exist harmoniously, supplementing each other in a perfect organism. In order to achieve this, I treat the spoken word just like the vocal part of a song, and with the same inner relation to the accompaniment as it exists in songs or in operas, so that the music really dramatizes the meaning of the words. When I write down these “spoken songs,” I indicate exactly the rhythm of the recitation, the value of each syllable, the dynamics (piano and forte), the expression, the rising and falling of the voice. In other words, the spoken word becomes part of the musical composition.
I took the words of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, The Star Spangled Banner, America, and Pledge to the Flag, as if they were fresh material. I set them to music, emphasizing the meaning of the words and their emotions.
For instance, in The Star Spangled Banner, I based my musical setting on the dramatic situation that gave birth to the poem: a man looking out into the dim light of the early dawn and discovering that “our flag was still there.” Of course, I used as much as possible of the original melody of the songs, but I had to make them a part of my own form. Naturally, this form had to be different from the originals because the reading of a poem does not allow any holds, any “long notes” or pauses. I kept always in mind that our intention was to bring the words of these national songs to life, through the interpretation of one of the greatest and most thrilling actresses of our time.