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Theses Doctoral

Listening to Ekphrastic Musical Compositions

Hilewicz, Orit

This dissertation offers an approach for analyzing ekphrastic musical works—compositions that take other artworks as their subject matter. It proposes two theoretical models for listener-observers’ engagement with ekphrastic compositions. The first model, termed descriptive representation, refers to musical components that can be considered representational independently from the context provided by the other artwork. It involves a metaphor that the musical piece and the visual image or text have in common. The second model, termed contextual representation, refers to musical components considered representational only in the context of the other artwork. Rather than arising separately from each artwork, it is the product of multitextual listening, in which listener-observers form connections between the ekphrastic piece and the other artwork. Four analytical chapters demonstrate the application of the models to different types of cross-media interaction. The first concentrates on music after painting, including a comparative study of three movements from orchestral compositions— Gunther Schuller’s Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee (1959), Peter Maxwell Davies’s Five Klee Pictures (1959/1976), and Tan Dun’s Death and Fire: A Dialogue with Paul Klee (1993)—composed after Paul Klee’s painting Die Zwitschermaschine (1922). Each of the pieces provides a singular interpretive outlook on the painting. Together, the analyses demonstrate the multiplicity of interpretations an artwork can receive through musical ekphrasis. The second analytical chapter concentrates on music and space, examining Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, composed after Rothko’s chapel in Houston. I propose that Rothko Chapel as musical ekphrasis provides a sonic identity for the chapel, allowing it to transcend its physical properties by bringing the space into presence in listeners’ minds even when listening to a performance away from the chapel. The third analytical chapter examines the boundaries of ekphrasis through analysis of Luciano Berio’s 1996 composition Ekphrasis (Continuo II), composed after his Continuo for Orchestra (1989–1991). I argue that Berio’s ekphrasis diverts listeners’ attention from similarity to difference, from presence to absence, helping achieve a broader understanding of contextual representation. Lastly, an analysis of Arnold Schoenberg’s Begleitungsmusik zu einer Lichtspielscene, Op. 34 (1929–1930) compares models of representation in programmatic music to musical ekphrasis. The analyses demonstrate that music becomes representational by virtue of a listener’s activity that treats ekphrastic musical works as multitextual. Moreover, this dissertation provides a framework for interpreting representation in post-tonal music.

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Academic Units
Music
Thesis Advisors
Dubiel, Joseph P
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
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