Dissertation Index

Author: Robison, Brian Carl

Title: Carmen arcadiae mechanicae perpetuum: Toward a methodology for analyzing Harrison Birtwistle\'s music since 1977

Institution: Cornell University

Begun: May 1995

Completed: August 1999


Although many critics regard Harrison Birtwistle as the foremost British composer of his generation, his works remain underrepresented in the analytic literature. His music notoriously resists conventional analysis, and when interviewed the composer hasn\'t expounded at length on his methods. Commentators on his music have thus lacked specific technical means to substantiate their interpretative claims.

The present study explores in detail some of the internal logic of Birtwistle\'s 1977 composition Carmen arcadiae mechanicae perpetuum (hereafter simply Carmen). Birtwistle\'s highly idiosyncratic musical style calls for an eclectic mix of analytic techniques, drawn from music theory, mathematics, and ideas conveyed in the composer\'s scores and published remarks. In Chapter 1, I define central concepts and the analytic means by which I describe them in Birtwistle\'s music. Chapter 2 introduces carmen in particular, acquainting the reader with the music\'s general characteristics and sketching some of the analytic issues specific to the piece.

The next four chapters form the core of the present study; each draws on the ideas introduced in Chapter 1 to investigate one of the musical aspects of Carmen mentioned in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 examines Birtwistle\'s distinctively indistinct melodies. Chapter 4 shows how he generates harmonic variety that produces approximately parallel voice-leading. Chapter 5 shows how he generates motivic variety through approximate repetitions of an ostinato. Chapter 6 analyzes Birtwistle\'s treatment of musical sequences that repeat along one or more parameters.

The last two chapters place the preceding four in perspective. Chapter 7 summarizes my analytic findings from Chapters 3 through 6, and synthesizes them to clarify their implications for further analysis. Chapter 8 furnishes some cursory analysis of Birtwistle\'s subsequent music. These later examples demonstrate that many of the techniques I describe are by no means peculiar to Carmen, but persist as prominent aspects of Birtwistle\'s style.

Keywords: Harrison Birtwistle, contour analysis, pitch set analysis, seriate shuffle, harmonic permutation, motivic permutation, polycycles (generalized isorhythm)


Chapter 1: General introduction
Chapter 2: An overview of Carmen
Chapter 3: Monody in Birtwistle\'s music
Chapter 4: Birtwistle\'s technique of harmonic permutation
Chapter 5: From aleatoric mobiles to motivic permutation
Chapter 6: Cycles of pitch, rhythm, and timbre
Chapter 7: Summary and synthesis
Chapter 8: Birtwistle\'s music after Carmen


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