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Artless Gardens: Time, space, and the ‘ritual of cultural identity’ in music by Veljo Tormis

McGinn, Claire (2015) Artless Gardens: Time, space, and the ‘ritual of cultural identity’ in music by Veljo Tormis. MA by research thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

Attracting such diverse labels as ‘a modern shaman’s call’ and ‘bland inventions,’ Veljo Tormis’s (b. 1930) music has drawn a cult following, in spite – or because of – its simplicity, which may be seen as unchallenging or monotonous. Is this minimalistic, non-linear, monumental, ‘ecological’ music solely based on features of ancient Estonian runic folk song, or does it bear fingerprints of trauma? Does it embody the alleged qualities of indigenous Estonian culture that the poet Jaan Kaplinski has promoted as crucial to an idealized ‘Finno-Ugric mode of seeing’? Or is it just another product of the homogenizing meat grinder of Socialist Realism – ‘glib, bland, and corny’? Is it a Soviet ‘nationalist’ prototype, shunted along the via negativa production line and filled with carbon copies of authentic Estonian content? Or is it an invaluable ‘ritual of cultural identity’? Beyond their superficial correlation with Soviet-approved nation-building projects, their popular accessibility, reliance on folk material, and an apparent general avoidance of the vilified ‘bourgeois formalism,’ Tormis’s ‘bland inventions’ betray a network of connections with the ‘postmodern,’ the post-traumatic, and the (notionally) ‘Finno-Ugric.’ The music itself might at first seem unremarkable, but its relationships with contextual issues are more nuanced and complicated. This thesis builds on extant scholarship, firstly, by taking a slightly different approach to analysis of this music. Focusing on how Tormis’s work might be perceived can allow for connections to be made with a wider variety of extra-musical ideas – perhaps to a greater extent than a more technical or ‘classificatory’ analysis (which also seems unsuitable given the simplicity of much of the music in question). This study also attempts to broaden the frames of reference of the (English language) conversation around this music. A more ‘critical’ approach to the study of Tormis’s work and its context here involves engagement with anthropology, philosophy, and literary theory and its borrowings from feminist theory and psychoanalysis. Analytical and ‘critical’ observations are distributed across four chapters dealing with essentially separable but interrelated themes: ‘Repetition and Ritual’; ‘Time and Telos’; ‘Balance and Biophilia’; and ‘Boundaries and Binaries’.

Item Type: Thesis (MA by research)
Academic Units: The University of York > Music (York)
Depositing User: Ms Claire McGinn
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2016 15:45
Last Modified: 01 Dec 2017 01:18
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/11584

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