Date of Award

Spring 4-26-2022

Degree Type


Director of Thesis

E. Jacob Will Jr.

First Reader

Thomas Brunson

Second Reader

Thomas Brunson


In this thesis essay, an inspection of classical vocal music spanning centuries will identify works based on real-life historical figures and events. The range of works to be inspected span from the Late Renaissance to the Modern era of classical composition. From the early days of vocal composition composers looked back into the past to draw inspiration for their desired expression and portrayal of human conflict. However, in many cases the figures or historical facts portrayed differ quite significantly from how they were in real life.

Composers and librettists, the authors of the text being set to music, had a habit of either embellishing real events or changing a real historical figure’s personality as a means of heightening the drama, offering a new perspective, or expressing a new idea or theme through a real person or a surrounding point in history. This essay will attempt to compare and contrast just how certain facts are manipulated, to what end, and whether an artist can still find inspiration from the true history to accurately portray the composer’s vision of it.

This essay is presented with a vocal recital, in which many of the operas and art songs discussed in this essay will be presented through performance. This recital will be given live and recorded for posterity. In performing these works, a brief explanation of the historical background will be given, and the approach will be one of paying respect to the real figures portrayed in the works as well as the composer’s intentions. The following essay will be divided into the aforementioned compositional eras, and will offer a deep insight into how real events inspire art. Through the joining of history and music, a powerful reminder can be given that life often imitates art and that history frequently repeats itself.

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