A Music as Numerous as Space: Emily Dickinson and Music: Influence, Inspiration, and Impact

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There has been much scholarly and artistic debate about Emily Dickinson; her life, her creative impetus and her poetic style to name but a few. Yet there has been surprisingly little research done in relation to her musical training, musical aspects of
her work and of the remarkable number of song settings, inspired by her poems and letters, that have been written by composers over the last 125 years.

It is well documented that Dickinson had a solid and sophisticated knowledge of music, in both rudiment and performance. Her music folio contains manuscripts that, in some instances, require an advanced piano technique. Her editorial markings found in many of these manuscripts support the notion that, especially in her formative years, she was exposed to a relatively high level of music instruction. When approaching Dickinson’s texts from a musical perspective we discover a rich and fertile pool of artistic strategy that sits comfortably within the intimate medium of song composition and performance. Her concise, minimal, idiosyncratic yet electric poetic style serves as an ideal companion to the world of musical composition. Elements such as meter, phrasing, musical imagery and direct musical reference serve the composer and performer with a unique opportunity to interpret Dickinson’s writing in a more expanded context.

My current research is an investigation of Dickinson’s intersections with music: her own musical practice, her innovative use of musical device, metaphor and language as
an expression of her connection to (and interaction with) exterior and interior space and the creation of an archive highlighting song composition and performance inspired by her poetry and letters. It is my wish that this research will ultimately serve as a model for future study and debate regarding Dickinson and music and how, via the process of music performance and analysis, it can bring the composer, performer and audience one step closer to a more full-­‐bodied and dramatic realisation of her work.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

This paper was originally published by the Emily Dickinson International Society (EDIS) (http://emilydickinsoninternationalsociety.org)


  • Music
  • American cultural studies
  • Literature
  • Performance Studies
  • Composition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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