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Thomas Adès's "Happy Promiscuity": Interpreting the 'Concert Paraphrase on Powder her Face'.

Fripp, Ashley (2021). Thomas Adès's "Happy Promiscuity": Interpreting the 'Concert Paraphrase on Powder her Face'.. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, Guildhall School of Music and Drama)


This practice-based research project in musical performance, comprising a recital and accompanying thesis, documents a developing interpretation of Thomas Adès’s Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face for solo piano. There is as yet no body of literature on the interpretation of Adès’s music, with most existing research largely focusing on the music’s compositional techniques with little consideration of musical meaning and its implication for performance. Thus, there is a gap between the developing literature in Adès scholarship and the concerns of the music’s potential interpreters which this project makes a preliminary attempt to bridge.

Using Silverman’s (2007) suggested tools for building a ‘subjective’ (as opposed to ‘formalist’) interpretation, four research questions are formulated to frame a detailed study of the work and to consider how these research outcomes can be used to shape a more ‘thickly contextualised interpretation’ (Walls, 2002).

Owing to the wide scope of reference in the Concert Paraphrase and the opera on which it is based, a ‘magpie’ methodology (Carter, 2013) is employed. A review of existing sources in historical musicology are used to survey the historical models of operatic piano transcriptions to which the Concert Paraphrase alludes, and to build a working taxonomy of different transcription types. Recent research on Adès is synthesised, together with work on postmodernism and surrealism by Kramer (2016) and others, and techniques from post-tonal theory are used to investigate the compositional techniques used in the opera and paraphrase. Theoretical approaches suggested by Abbate (1989) and Klein (2018) are used to investigate the work’s unusual narrativity. A first-person documentary account of a masterclass with the composer on some of his other piano music (Mazurkas, Op. 27) provides an insight into his thinking and approach to the performance challenges of his music.

The findings of this research are collated using a practice-based methodology to demonstrate how one might translate textual research findings into tools for a performance of the Concert Paraphrase, to supplement the live recital and submitted recordings. Finally, some conclusions are offered about the implications of this research for performance practice and pedagogy in the music of Adès and other similarly referential postmodern composers.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: Doctoral Theses
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