Here's the start to my Character Playlist:
Thea Kronborg, from Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark
“Electric Counterpoint III” by Stephen Reich
In her childhood, Thea becomes close friends with a local brakeman, Ray Kennedy, who introduces her to the world outside of Moonstone, Colorado. Her explorations along the railroad spark her desire to create a life beyond her mundane existence while introducing her to the beauty of her surroundings. The constant beat of this song suggests the clanking rhythm of a train moving across the tracks into the horizon. As the song continues, it builds momentum, adding more and more musical layers. This might symbolize not only the driving motion of the train but also Thea’s emotional growth as she begins to envision a life away from her commonplace family.
“The New World Symphony, Movement One” by Antonin Dvorak
Much of Cather’s novel concerns the relationship between the wild landscapes of the American West and structured formality of classical composition. Thea is inspired by this particular piece because it invokes images of her childhood. Here were the Sand Hills, the grasshoppers and locusts…the reaching and reaching of high plains, the immeasurable yearning of all flat lands. Dvorak infused his compositions with the sounds of America: folk music, spirituals, and American Indian songs. Just as these sources helped to shape Dvorak’s music, Thea is likewise inspired by breath-taking scenery of her homeland, helping to meld her American heritage with her passion for the European opera.
“One Million Miles Away” by J. Ralph
Thea’s first chance at greatness comes when she is allowed to study piano in Chicago. In Chicago, she trains mercilessly, pushing her body and spirit to their furthest limits. While serving as an accompanist for a voice teacher, Thea is discovered to have a wonderful voice of her own. She immediately switches her focus from piano to voice and continues with the same strict regiment. However, her intensive studies and dreary Chicago weather begin to take their toll; Thea becomes exhausted, both mentally and physically, and ill. J. Ralph’s “One Million Miles Away” conveys Thea’s longing for the land she left behind. The female voice laments her separation from the thing she loves while the simple, repetitive piano rhythm is reminiscent of a piano exercise that Thea herself might practice.
“Koyaanisqatsi” by Philip Glass
After her exhausting training in Chicago, Thea returns to the South-West in order to recuperate. During this time, she explores and lives in the cave dwellings of Panther Canyon, Arizona. Cut off from her homeland for so long, she begins to reconnect with the overwhelming beauty and inspiration of the South-Western landscapes. However, she gains further insight into these lands as she experiences life as the early American Indians would have. Taken back in time to a certain extent, Thea learns new appreciation and understanding of this land. “Koyaanisqatsi,” music from the movie of the same name, reflects the innate sense of age and grandeur of the Panther Canyon cave dwellings. The deep, repetitive drones hearken back to those early dwellers. Philip Glass, a minimalist composer known for his simple melodies, creates a piece that sounds primitive yet profound at the same time.
“Nessun Dorma” by Giacomo Puccini
“Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stele! Tramontate, stele! All’alba vincero! Vincero! Vincero!”
“Vanish, o night! Set, stars! Set, stars! At daybreak I shall win! I shall win! I shall win!”
The final chapters of the novel show Thea at the height of her career, a famous prima donna and product of intensive training in Germany. We see her no longer as the raw-talent South-Western girl but as a force of nature, a woman who has taken hold of her destiny. The final lines of “Nessun Dorma” a famous aria from Puccini’s Turandot speaks to this feeling of power and triumph. Although the piece is written for the tenor voice, it still conveys that feeling of ascension, illustrating Thea’s own ascension in both emotion and maturity. Like Calaf, the character who sings this aria in Turandot, Thea has truly conquered her life; there is no doubt that she shall win.