From Sacred Narrative to Evocations of Ancientness: Mythical Meaning in Contemporary Music

Kemper, Stephen Thomas, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Shatin, Judith, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Burtner, Christopher, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Coffey, Edward, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Mark, Earl, Department of Architecture, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the evocation of myth in contemporary instrumental music in the Western classical tradition, and how this music reflects comparative myth theories developed in the twentieth century, specifically structuralist, ritual, and Jungian theories. Historically, musical evocations of myth have been based on specific mythical stories. Using Mieke Bal’s broad definition of narrative, I focus on theories surrounding instrumental music’s ability to narrate and how structuralist theories illuminate the specific case of music and myth. I apply these theories to two contemporary symphonic poems, Chen Yi’s Chinese Myths Cantata and Kaija Saariaho’s Orion. More recently, composers have begun to incorporate generalized conceptions of myth into their music, employing musical gesture based on ritual that evokes mythical meaning in non-narrative music. Incorporating categories of musical, mythical gesture developed by Eero Tarasti, Victoria Adamenko, François-Bernard Mâche, and adding my own category of mythical temporality, I examine George Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children as an exemplar, followed by pairings of a cross section of more recent pieces, including Christopher Rouse’s Gorgon and Harrison Birtwistle’s The Cry of Anubis; Steve Reich’s Tehillim and Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa; and Trevor Wishart’s Vox II and Jonathan Harvey’s Ritual Melodies. I examine critiques of cultural appropriation and overgeneralization in Pauline Oliveros’s composed ceremonies Crow Two and Rose Moon. Finally, I explore cross- cultural mythical referents and their theoretical influences on my own pieces, The Seven Stars and Mythical Spaces, and conceptions of science, technology and myth in Anticenter Stream, composition: Old Stars and In Illo Tempore.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
myth, music, contemporary, symphonic

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