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"How Do I Love Thee?"

This page will link you to the full score of Barry Drogin's "How Do I Love Thee?", completed in 1991 and premiered at a private wedding by Jennifer Lane and James Bassi in August of 1994.

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About the Piece

The text for "How Do I Love Thee?" is more formally known as number VIII of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Sonnets from the Portuguese." The start of the answer, "Let me count the ways," is a familiar quotation. The composer has treated the entire poem as a love duet between a mezzo-soprano or alto voice and a tenor voice, sung a cappella.

About the Piece's Origins

The piece was composed in the late fall of 1990 as a gift for a semi-professional couple of the composer's acquaintance. A limited numbered edition of twelve scores was created on special paper and distributed to several couples of the composer's acquaintance. The piece was first performed at a wedding.

About the Music

The piece is the first completely a cappella non-choral work conceived by the composer, as well as the first to completely drop the use of bar lines; the lack of key signature is common practice, even in "tonal" works by, for example, Kurt Weill. Fitting on two 8 1/2" by 11" pieces of paper and lasting only 2 minutes, the piece plays with lyrical melodic gestures arranged horizontally, at times overlapping, at times simultaneous. The opening and closing thirds root the piece in D major, but a free-flowing pantonality persists. ABA in structure, the composer brings back the opening melody, and closes the piece by taking the liberty of inverting the opening question into the statement "How I Do Love Thee." In the A section, the word "How" is presented on descending alternating seconds, while "I Love Thee" is on a rising fifth followed by a descending second; in the B section, "I Love Thee" is reversed (a descending semitone followed by a rising sixth), and the remaining text uses alternating descending fifths. For some reason, a concluding descending semitone, common in much German music (and speech) and suggestive of resolution, sounds, to this ear, less obvious than an initial descending semitone, common in much French music (and speech) and suggestive of the opposite (think Carmen's opening aria). These two notes give the piece a sentimental romantic gloss that, perhaps, render the piece inappropriate for the concert hall but ideal for the wedding hall.

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    Last Updated: November 23, 2008