Season after Pentecost, 2023
Text-painting (pronunciation) occurs when a composer "paints" the text he or she is setting through musical devices, rather than just using music as a vehicle for text delivery. No one seems to be willing to define "text-painting." It's not in the The New Grove Dictionary of Music. The pronunciation above is actually part of an online dictionary, but this entry lacks a definition. Wikipedia mentions text-painting in articles on various composers ranging from Thomas Tomkins to Hugo Wolf, but at this point, no one has created an article for the term.
Perhaps the most famous instance of text-painting in recent cultural memory occurs in "All I Really Want" from Alanis Morisette's Jagged Little Pill (1995)
Why are you so petrified of silence?
Here can you handle this?
Here, singer-songwriter Morissette uses an electronic technique to paint the word "silence." Imediately after she poses her questions, the accompanying ensemble electric instruments ensemble and percussion instruments are abruptly cut off. A period of silence ensues.
Recently, I've been struck by two instances of text painting in two anthems by English composers: Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies by T. Frederick Candlyn and And I Saw A New Heaven by Edgar Bainton.
T. Frederick Candlyn
Candlyn's anthem, Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies, is a setting of the text by Charles Wesley. The text-painting I noticed occurs at the second stanza: "Dark and cheerless is the morn unaccompanied by thee."
At the word "unaccompanied" the organ stops playing. This simple, literal gesture--leaving the choir unaccompanied--is quite effective. As an organist, I also appreciate that Candlyn equates the organ with Christ.
Edgar Bainton (1880-1956)
and his daughter
Edgar Bainton wrote a lot of music, including some choral anthems, but never worked in a church as far as I can tell. He studied with Walford Davies and Stanford and moved to Australia in the 1930s. (For more on Bainton, and the source of that crazy viking picture, see Edgar Bainton: Musical and Spiritual Traveler.)
In his anthem And I Saw A New Heaven, Bainton doesn't do anything you can point to other than write a tune that will make you cry for the words "and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Text-painting of a different sort in this morse code chart
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