An Overview of Collaborative Coherency in the 20th Century

(The following is adapted from an essay I wrote on the subject of the development of collaborative coherency (and songwriting in general) throughout the twentieth century. Naturally, this will be far from comprehensive, but I hope that it will serve to illustrate some of the concepts that I believe lie at the heart of lyric-writing.)
Often overlooked in the rush to praise instrumental music and poetry is the humble art form of songwriting. An institution probably as old as language itself, the practice of coordinating music and lyrics took great leaps and bounds in the 20th century, but in a manner rather different than those of its independent constituent parts. This is because of the inherently elaborate nature of the song. For many artists the relationship between music and lyrics is symbiotic, one of interplay rather than dominance of one over the other. Thus, not only should the rhythms of the music and the rhythms of speech in the lyrics match up, but the emphases in the music (be they of pitch, volume, duration, or what have you) should ideally correspond to similar points in the music. This form of coordination will be referred to from here on out as “collaborative coherency,” and understanding this concept and its development is essential to understanding the development of songwriting as a whole through the 20th Century; from the acceptable but inconsistent collaborative coherency of opera sprang a vast and disparate range of approaches, from Schoenberg’s rejection of collaborative coherency to Weill and Brecht’s refinement of it to a fascinating reconciliation of the two.
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