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Density as an aesthetic principle and creative practice in composition

Querfurth, K. (2020). Density as an aesthetic principle and creative practice in composition. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, Guildhall School of Music and Drama)

Abstract

Density has been a central concept of contemporary composition since the post-war avant-garde of the 1960s. Works like Ligeti's Atmosphères (1961) — which starts with a massive, 66-note pitch cluster — or Ferneyhough's La terre est un homme (1979) — whose sound-world is described by its composer as if several compositions were coexisting simultaneously1 — have put a high degree of musical information as their main focus. However, so far there has not been an attempt to gather and compare different theories on density, or an investigation into different writing techniques associated with it.

My research aims to fill this gap. In the first part of this study, I will examine and compare the existing literature on the subject and try to find common ground — or divergences — between different approaches to density. This examination focusses on concepts and essays of the postwar avant garde, such as integral serialism, textural music, so-called “New Complexity” and more recent developments such as the French musique saturée movement, and their relationship to density. Through the comparison of these approaches, a more nuanced conception of density is arrived at, which views density as the amount of musical information within a specific frame of musical time and a specific musical parameter.

A second strand of my study lies in writing pieces based on this more nuanced theory, as well as on insights and open questions gained from the rehearsal processes of these pieces. Topics addressed in these original compositions include different manifestations of density derived from the new definition; the interaction between density and parametric polyphony; density as a means for formal delineation; superimposition; use of different temporal frames as a means of large-scale development; density and detail, with a focus on microtonality; and finally density and transcription. Reference is also made intermittently to different aesthetic contexts, such as the aforementioned musique saturée and the recent Diesseitigkeit and New Conceptualism.

This research hopes to shed light on density-related compositional concepts, their aesthetic possibilities and their practical pitfalls. By doing so, it could provide greater conceptual clarity and suggest approaches and tools, not only for composers interested in the subject but also for musicologists or performing musicians.

1 Boros, James and Toop, Richard (1995) (eds.), Brian Ferneyhough: Collected Writings,
Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, p. 310

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Date Deposited: 04 May 2021 10:22
URI: https://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/26084
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