Nevermore! – Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” Set to Song

I love setting words to music.

This Saturday morning I felt the urge to take a stab at Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. I had an inkling of how the melody might go, but I wanted to do a bit of research before I got started.

I had memorized the first few stanzas of the poem back in grade 8 after seeing an adaptation of it on The Simpsons for their Halloween special. At the time I had little idea what the poem was about, and hadn’t thought much about it since, so like a good musicologist,  I read the entry on Wikipedia (lulz).

Apparently it is about a young classics scholar pining over his deceased girlfriend. One interpretation states he has been reading occult texts on black magic (‘many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore’) in a vain attempt to bring her back to life and goes mad in the process (i.e. seeing a talking bird that wasn’t a parrot).


“Off your meds again Homer?”

This seemed a subject ripe for song to me!

With all the references to the occult and witchcraft, the key had to be Eb minor, which is the colour of midnight blue and evokes a sense of deeply melancholic longing. Think the first few measures of Coleman Hawkin’s solo on  “Body and Soul” (0:09 in the video below) or the main theme to Thelonius Monk’s masterpiece “Round Midnight” (0:32 respectively).

Once the mood was set, I then banged out a melody and piano arrangement of the first two stanzas (keyboard style, closed position of course, as my students would know), and recorded a quick  version for voice and piano  (below, with lyrics for your convenience and edification):

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
            Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore —
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
            Nameless here for evermore.

piano with voice:

©2013 Bryne Carruthers

piano only:

©2013 Bryne Carruthers

This is all I have time to do right now, but it would be fun to adapt the whole poem to music and then possibly arrange for orchestra. I’ve also got a couple William Blake poems (including “The Tyger”) that I melodicized a while back that could use a piano arrangement and might be worth sharing. So much music, so little time, alack and alas!


Night night folks

Until next time,


One Response to Nevermore! – Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” Set to Song

  1. Toni says:

    This is really, really cool! It helped me remember the first stanza for my English class and i hope to use it to memorize the second stanza. It’s really cool as i have already stated and I thank you for putting this up on the internet for all to listen.

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