The Lyrical Styles of Frederic Chopin and Kevin Puts

Carlos Barba


Cantabile is an Italian term and concept that developed in Italian opera. It is the imitation of the human voice through a musical instrument. Melodies that are song-like have always existed, but the popularity and use of cantabile grew throughout the 17th century and climaxed in the 18th century. Frederic Chopin championed this concept in his vast collection of works for piano and I believe that is why he is arguably the most popular Romantic-era composer. After listening extensively to the works of Kevin Puts, I believe there is a connection or resemblance in the lyrical writing style of these two composers.

            Even though Puts’ writes for a variety of instruments and settings, a major trait of his writing style is a somewhat homophonic texture with a simple song-like melody heavily made up long notes, such as Chopin’s iconic Nocturnes. Examples of the latter can be heard in his Four Airs, especially the ones for cello and violin. His renowned Symphony No. 2 opens with a soft, beautiful string pad while the piano plays a harmonized simple melody that could easily be sung. It is comparable to Chopin’s Etude Op. 10 No.3. I interpretthe simple left-hand pattern ostinato as the pad and his right hand the simple harmonized melody. Puts’ Chorus of Light opens with a variety of long notes from the various instruments in the wind symphony. About a minute into the work there is a clear homophonic texture with a lyrical melody being played in unison by several instruments from the different sections.      

            Even when both composers write more complex, aggressive, or faster pieces, there is constantly a sense of lyricism in the music. Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude or Scherzo No. 2, Op. 31 are examples of pieces with extremely thick textures and tumultuous character that retain a lyrical melody among the dense accompaniment. Puts’ Charm for wind symphony retains a song-like prevailing melody despite the 7/8 meter, lively tempo and the driving percussion sounds. Puts’Millennium Canons opens with a majestic brass passage and retains a somewhat thick texture throughout the piece. Barry Kilpatrick described this piece as “an attractive and attention-holding opener with fanfares in close imitation, unexpected harmonic progressions, and lyrical melodies passed between soloists.[1]

            Kevin Puts wrote mostly instrumental music throughout his career but enjoyed great success, including a Pulitzer Prize, after his first opera Silent Night. In an interview with NPR, Puts admitted He is still learning about the voice and how to write most idiomatically for it. “My music has become more and more lyrical over the years, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.[2]” Chopin never wrote for opera but it is well known he was a fanatic and fell in love multiple times with singers, according to his letters.[3] Like Chopin, I believe Kevin Puts lyrical style is a major factor in his success as a composer. The decline of classical music popularity throughout the 20th century was mainly due to the complex and dissonant music that people could not relate to. Puts provides his audiences with simple, yet profound melodies throughout his works that are easy and pleasant to listen to regardless of musical background.

Bibliography

Frakes, Stephanie L. “ Chopin’s Cantabile in Context.” PhD diss., Academic Ohio State University, 2012. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=osu1357332093&disposition=inline

Harris, Kyle. “Composer Kevin Puts on 9/11, the “Tragedy” of Trump, and Beethoven Envy.” Wesword. https://www.westword.com/music/composer-kevin-puts-on-9-11-the-tragedy-of-trump-and-beethoven-envy-8736810 (Accessed March 03, 2019).

Kilpatrick, B. (2009, 11). Collections: “Millennium Canons”. American Record Guide, 72, 219. Retrieved from https://0-search-proquest-com.lib.utep.edu/docview/753553292?accountid=7121

Huizenga, Tom. “Kevin Puts Wins Music Pulitzer For World War I Opera ‘Silent Night’.” NPR Music, April 04, 2012. Accessed March 2, 2019. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.o003500.


[1] Kilpatrick, B.

[2] Huizenga, T.

[3] Frakes, S.

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