What Goes Around Comes Around: Here We Go ‘Round the Song Cycle

Song cycle: a group of songs designed to be performed in a sequence as a single entity. As a rule, all of the songs are by the same composer and often use words from the same poet or lyricist.

The song cycle is one of my favorite mediums for witnessing a collection of musical work. A set of story songs is as satisfying as a tapas dinner. You get a taste of everything, you leave feeling like you learned something new. Without a libretto, the song cycle depends on the music to tie the show into a cohesive evening. This unity is often underlined by musical themes that weave their way back into the work.

But perhaps what’s most impressive is how lyrics are now thrust into the spotlight to stand on their own. There is no longer a text surrounding the work, or breaks between songs to help move one from the beginning of a story to its end. Lyrics must carry new weight.

Songs For A New World: abstract musical/theatrical song cycle with the central theme: “the moment of decision.”

Taste of what’s inside:

“God knows it’s easy to hide,
Easy to hide from the things that you feel 
And harder to blindly trust 
What you can’t understand 

God knows it’s easy to run,
Easy to run from the people you love 
And harder to stand and fight 
For the things you believe”
– I’d Give it All For You

Closer Than Ever:  A meditation on urban life through the lens of real individuals’ experiences with security, aging, mid-life crisis, second marriages, working couples, and unrequited love.

Taste of what’s inside:

“If I sing you are the music.
If I love you taught me how.
Every day your heart is beating
in the man that I am now.

If my ears are tuned to wander.
If when I reach the chords are there.
When there is joy in making music,
it’s a joy that we both share.”
– If I Sing

Myths and Hymns: Song cycle by Adam Guettel, based on Greek myth and lyrics found in an antique hymnal. It concerns the relationship of humans to gods, past and present.

Taste of what’s inside:

“I don’t know what I hunger for,
I don’t know why I feel the hunger more
And more with every passing day.
I don’t know from where the hunger springs,
But that it’s there and that it sings of someplace far away.”
– Saturn Returns

Even in these moments, do you notice the repetition? The words ground themselves: “God knows…”, “If…”, “I don’t know…”. These simple phrases reinforce the idea that a song does not need to be verbose to hit home. These song cycles are memorable because they feature honest human stories told simply, an utterly effective means of storytelling.

What’s your favorite way to hear a story?

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3

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6 thoughts on “What Goes Around Comes Around: Here We Go ‘Round the Song Cycle

  1. It’s interesting, thinking about what makes a story; I think a goid story engages as many of our senses as possible– movies are a good example. (Part of my work is creating photo montages, where I blend many photos to create a complete story.) I’m intrigued by this idea of telling a story by combining songs– like an aural version of a montage. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. I love ‘Songs for a New World’ but haven’t heard of the other two. I’ll have to go check them out when I get home. Thanks for the heads up!

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