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When Performance Ends: Musicians as Writers

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A quick survey of early twentieth-century visual and verbal artists reveals a striking number of women with extensive musical training. This essay examines the work of three of those women. Leonora Speyer, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1927, enjoyed a distinguished career as a concert violinist before injury changed the course of her artistic expression. Edna St. Vincent Millay contemplated a career as a concert pianist and remained an active amateur throughout her life. Peggy Pond Church began piano study at an early age and found music the closest analogue for her beloved New Mexico landscapes. In their writing, Speyer, Millay and Church explore the stark difference between language and performed sound. Untrustworthy by its social nature, the written word readily betrays its author. Far different is meaning "uttered in music." Church's phrase articulates the premise behind each writer's work. The knowledge held within the musician's hands is inalienable; it resides beyond language and, as such, unlooses the usual bonds of human relationship. Though the shape and substance of their poems differ, these writers share a single aesthetic in which music creates the constitutive force that redeems language from failure.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2002


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