Music

New Recording of the Overture

The piano is as important for the character of Marianne Dashwood as it was to the music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Consequently, our show begins with Marianne alone on stage with her favorite instrument, playing a simple melody over a characteristic Alberti bass line. The orchestra gradually creep in under the piano, building to a romantic flourish and then backing away again for a quiet final cadence. Listen to “At Norland (Overture)” as played by composer Joshua Tyra, with a little help from multi-track editing for the orchestral lines:

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New York Recordings, March 2010

On March 6, 2010, several songs and a scene from Sense and Sensibility: a New Musical were performed live for the greater New York regional conference of the Jane Austen Society of North America, held at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. Many thanks to JASNA-NY for their invitation and warm welcome, and to our talented, hardworking cast who made this performance come alive. Please enjoy the four tracks below!

Listen to “First Love” (music and lyrics by Joshua Tyra; sung by Danielle Frimer, Rachel Buethe, and Alan Gillespie; Joshua Tyra, piano):

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Listen to “On a Hillside Green with Clover” (music and addl. lyrics by Joshua Tyra; lyrics by Gemma Cooper-Novack; sung by Danielle Frimer and Alan Gillespie; Joshua Tyra, piano):

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Listen to “Impertinence” (music by Joshua Tyra; lyrics by Gemma Cooper-Novack; sung by Rachel Buethe, with Sarah Elliott; Joshua Tyra, piano):

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Listen to “The Pleasantness of an Employment” (music and lyrics by Joshua Tyra; sung by Sarah Elliott and Danielle Frimer; Joshua Tyra, piano):

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What should the music for a stage version of Sense and Sensibility sound like? To answer this question, I first sought to answer the question, “What was music like during Jane Austen’s lifetime?” My research revealed at least three registers of music in England during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Near the high end of the spectrum of artistic achievement were the classical symphonies of Haydn and the burgeoning romanticism of Beethoven. Less accomplished but nonetheless popular were the drawing room songs such as those collected by Jane Austen herself in her personal folios of sheet music. Apparently, Austen enjoyed everything from (almost comically) serious dramatic duets to a surprisingly saucy ballad on how Irishmen make the best lovers. Even simpler and more accessible were the country dance tunes popularized in the collections published by John Playford. The tradition of English country dancing was on the decline by Austen’s time, but it is ubiquitous in her novels, and in her letters she writes of her deep personal enjoyment of dancing. Given that country dance music was perhaps the most social and universally enjoyed musical form of the day (and one which crossed socio-economic boundaries), I looked mainly to this style for inspiration for my music for Sense and Sensibility. Not to mention that I’ve always been a sucker for a good melody, which can’t hurt at all in constructing a musical theater score!

My first crack at writing a dance tune was the following, originally titled “The Country Parson,” but later renamed “Mr Willoughby’s Maggot” when that title was wanted for another number.

Listen to “Mr Willoughby’s Maggot” (music by Joshua Tyra):

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Later, I recast and expanded the main melodic idea in a parlor duet for Willoughby and Marianne. I came up with the opening couplet “On a hillside green with clover / I have lately met my lover,” and Gemma ably provided the rest of the lyrics.

Listen to “On a Hillside Green with Clover” (music and addl. lyrics by Joshua Tyra; lyrics by Gemma Cooper-Novack; sung by Annie Petzinger and Robert Sutton; Joshua Tyra, piano):

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I took this same melodic material in another direction, with very different dramatic undertones, in Col. Brandon’s song “A Girl Like Marianne,” for which I also wrote the lyrics.

Listen to “A Girl Like Marianne” (music and lyrics by Joshua Tyra; sung by the composer):

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One of our early collaborations was “To My Cousin,” in which Sir John Middleton sings his invitation to the Dashwoods as they read his letter. Gemma’s rhythmic lyrics gave ample room to incorporate two of Sir John’s passions: hunting (listen for the horn calls) and dancing, reflected in the waltz-in-one tempo.

Listen to “To My Cousin” (lyrics by Gemma Cooper-Novack; music by Joshua Tyra; sung by the composer):

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There was a longstanding tradition of naming dance tunes after a country manor house, sometimes as an oblique reference to some scandalous event that had occurred there. I titled another of my dance tunes “Barton Park” in homage to that house’s colorful characters, including Mrs Jennings, Sir John and Lady Middleton.

Listen to “Barton Park” (music by Joshua Tyra):

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I incorporated this same dance tune into Marianne’s most important first act number, “First Love.” As Gemma pointed out, my lyrics bring an abstraction (Marianne’s views on love) into a concrete format, and I loved musically building the others’ impolite drawing room chatter into the second chorus, which winds up as a quartet.

Listen to “First Love” (music and lyrics by Joshua Tyra; sung by the composer):

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Gemma found that Mrs Dashwood needed a more significant “moment in the sun” in the first act, so she wrote the tender lyrics of “As I See It,” which I then set to music. I think she captured Mrs Dashwood’s mother’s heart very aptly, and her words easily lent themselves to the lilting 12/8 meter which I settled on.

Listen to “As I See It” (lyrics by Gemma Cooper-Novack; music by Joshua Tyra; sung by Rory Michelle Sullivan [Mrs Dashwood] with Gemma Cooper-Novack as Elinor and the composer at the piano):

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I love writing comic characters and numbers, and thanks to Jane Austen, we had no shortage of places to turn for comic relief. Although the Regency period was some 60 or 70 years before Gilbert and Sullivan, I found that the characters of John and Fanny Dashwood and Mrs Jennings fit easily and naturally into a G&S-influenced register, both musically and lyrically. I loved working on the words and music for these songs—trying to fit all of Chapter Two into one song (“Generosity”) was like solving a giant, complex crossword puzzle, but it seems to have paid off. And once I got into the character of Mrs Jennings, her showpiece “Married by Midsummer” practically wrote itself. I enjoyed working as much Austen as possible into these two numbers, whether word-for-word or slightly paraphrased.

Listen to “Generosity” (music and lyrics by Joshua Tyra; sung by the composer):

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Listen to “Married by Midsummer” (music and lyrics by Joshua Tyra; sung by the composer):

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