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Ghosts in the Machine: The Making of European Serialism, 1945–1955

Erwin, Max Owen (2019) Ghosts in the Machine: The Making of European Serialism, 1945–1955. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

This study demonstrates how a particular discourse was adopted in Western Europe in the early 1950s to explicate musical practices of the avant-garde. Developed by Theodor W. Adorno, René Leibowitz, and Herbert Eimert, this discourse presented New Music as the universalisation of formal techniques which, these theorists argued, demonstrated the most advanced, unflinching engagement with the objective historical condition of musical material. The result, so the story goes, was that young generation of composers broke with the past in toto to write a rigorously anti-intuitive music inspired solely by the work of Anton Webern: the Darmstadt School. At the point of writing, the inadequacies and outright fabrications of this discourse have been repeatedly detailed by an increasingly rich body of scholarship. But this discourse nevertheless continues to ground the available historical understanding of New Music of the post-war era. In an effort to discover the reasons for its remarkable longevity, this study scrutinises this discourse with a particular attention to how it explicates the practices of composers it describes. Through this analysis, it becomes clear that this discourse is not so much concerned with composition proper but rather with the universalisation of technical processes. The question, then, becomes which practices supplied such techniques that were universalised as the ‘Darmstadt School’, and at what cost? Accordingly, this study also evaluates works of ‘total’ serialism – those of now-marginal composers such as Karel Goeyvaerts and Michel Fano – within an alternative, self-sufficient tradition, thereby describing how such an avant-garde was constructed on the aesthetic foundations of composers and practices which were excluded from it.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Darmstadt, serialism, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Karel Goeyvaerts, critical theory, institutional studies
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Music (Leeds)
Depositing User: Max Erwin
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2020 16:10
Last Modified: 09 Jul 2020 16:10
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/27287

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