Corigliano, Who Set Dylan Text, Reflects on Songwriter’s Nobel Lit Win
St. Lawrence University college yearbook, November 1963

Corigliano, Who Set Dylan Text, Reflects on Songwriter’s Nobel Lit Win

A great deal of reporting and online chatter flooded in behind this morning’s announcement of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize win in literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” But could the text be separated from the music? Was this choice brilliant? Was this choice a publicity stunt?

Beyond the mainstream commentary and think pieces bound to follow, John Corigliano is in a unique position to reflect on Dylan’s text for a new music audience, as he set the songwriter’s work in 2000 to create the song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan. We asked him about the literary merits and character of Dylan’s text, from his perspective as someone who worked with this material at such a granular level.

When I wrote my seven-song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man, I had not heard the music to Bob Dylan’s songs; but I had purchased a large book of his lyrics and, on first reading, immediately recognized them for the poetry they are. These lyrics can evoke a Whitman-like grandeur, as in “Chimes of Freedom;” etch an Agee-like portrait of small town life, as in “Clothes Line,” or declaim a terrifying indictment of militarism (“Masters of War”). I can see why the Nobel committee awarded him the prize for literature.

The POTUS concurs:

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