Dissertation Index

Author: BOLAND, Marguerite M

Title: Form and Dialectical Opposition in Elliott Carter\'s Compositional Aesthetic

Institution: Australian National University

Begun: unspecified

Completed: December 2017


In his many writings and interviews, Elliott Carter frequently stresses the connection between human experiences of opposition and conflict and the opposition he composes into his musical interactions. While these concepts have received much attention in the scholarly literature over the decades, in this dissertation I examine the role of opposition in Carter’s music by bringing Carter’s aesthetic into contact with an Adornian tradition of dialectical aesthetics, something new to Carter scholarship. In particular, I harness Adorno’s concept of the social mediation of music materials to shed light on Carter’s linking of the musical and the human in his highly abstracted music. Central to this mediation is the way materials respond immanently to social conditions. I show how Carter conceives of musical form and temporality in terms closely aligned to Adorno, particularly with respect to non-repetition and freedom of formal design. However, I also argue that the way in which Carter worked with his musical materials did not remain static but responded to a changing modernism around the turn of the twenty-first century. Through an analysis of two of Carter’s late-late orchestral compositions, I examine how the notion of dialectical opposition finds expression in sonic images of lightness, effervescence and human fragility rather than the explosive oppositions of Carter’s middle period music. Part 1 of the thesis identifies traces of dialectical thinking in Carter’s writings and interviews and interprets these through an Adornian lens. Part 2 presents technical analyses of both the Boston Concerto (2002) and the ASKO Concerto (2000), focusing on how the repetition built in to the ritornello form of both pieces is re- formed by way of Carter’s dialectical handling of form and content. Part 3 offers a ‘second reflection’ in which philosophical concepts in Part 1 and technical concepts in Part 2 are drawn together into a critical analysis of how both materials and composer are mediated by the social.

Keywords: Elliott Carter, Boston Concerto, ASKO Concerto, form, analysis, Adorno, dialectics, philosophical aesthetics


1. Music dialectics and Carter contextualized
1.1 “a kind of dialectic”
1.2 Modernism and Carter revisited
1.3 Music dialectics and Adorno’s legacy
1.3.a – Adorno’s music aesthetics contextualized
1.3.b – Form-content dialectic
1.3.c – Mediated social critique
1.3.d – Post World War II music
1.3.e – Adorno and technical analysis
1.3.f – Music theory’s critical self-examination
1.4 Aims of this thesis

2. Tracing the dialectical in Carter’s compositional aesthetic
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Music history and “dialectical method”
2.3 Musical form and “time continuity”
2.4 The dialectic of musical motion: “human” and “inhuman” experiences of time
2.5 Musical form and Adorno’s Subject-Object dialectic
2.6 Carter’s dialectic of expression and construction
2.7 Conclusion

3. “a more significant human message”: Carter’s compositions as utopian vision
3.1 “a picture of society”
3.2 Glance at the socio-political connections in Carter’s oeuvre
3.3 Lightness and darkness: reworking the dialectic of material and form
3.3.a – Repetition
3.3.b – “the quality of inexhaustibility”
3.3.c – Sonority
3.3.d – The utopian in shades of light
3.4 Boston and ASKO Concertos: the dialectic of ritornello form

4. Analytical prelude
4.1 Circle of analyses: some analytical consideration

5. Boston Concerto – Analysis
5.1 Overview of Boston Concerto: text and texture, sonority and form
5.2 Ritornellos: the “rain” texture and its transformation 5.3 The “drama” of the concertinos
5.4 Form and continuity
5.4.a – “Linking” between movements
5.4.b – “Total” continuity effect

6. ASKO Concerto – Analysis
6.1 Overview of ASKO Concerto
6.2 “Thematic” material in the ritornello strand
6.3 Ritornello 1: “field of operations”
6.4 Two formal processes: motion through space and time

7. A critical interpretation of the Boston and ASKO concertos
7.1 Mediated social critique—the dialectic of form and content revisited
7.2 Genre and sedimented historical meaning
7.3 Composition and the “situated” composer

8. Conclusion



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