Titanic Operas: The Musical Voice of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Emily Dickinson (1830-­‐1886), and her widely acknowledged English counterpart Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-­‐1861), have been the subject and inspiration of many composers worldwide. These literary “sisters”provide a composer and performer with a unique yet challenging construct of poetic imagery and device that can be directly translated into a musical sphere. This presentation will feature two song settings from the 2008 cycle "Songs of Love" by the English composer Andrew Downes (1950-­‐): Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem "How do I love thee?" from her cycle "Sonnets from the Portuguese" and Emily Dickinson’s poem "One Blessing had I" (Fr767).

By means of video and audio recording, analysis of musical score and discussion of the creative process from page to the performance space, I will address how both musical creator and interpreter play a vital role in highlighting and defining the similarities and differences between the two poets and their work.

Further, this presentation will discuss Dickinson and Browning’s assumption of the role of musician, composer and performer, the way in which the interaction between these ‘players’ in their ‘drama of self‘ is reflected and expressed in musical terms and how both composer and, ultimately, performer are inspired to then interpret their work through their own artistic filters. By documenting the performer’s creative journey in bringing these musical narratives to life my hope is that this research will encourage music practitioners to explore the "titanic operas" of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 5 Nov 2015
EventLiminal Spaces: Hybrid Lives: 3rd Triennial Conference - Society for the Study of American Women Writers - Sheraton Philadelphia Society Hill Hotel, Philadephia, United States
Duration: 4 Nov 20157 Nov 2015


ConferenceLiminal Spaces: Hybrid Lives
Abbreviated titleSSAWW
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • 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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