Graduate Research

Jackson began graduate studies in musicology at the University of Louisville in fall 2016. The following spring, he cultivated an interest in French spectral music as well as in the post-spectral compositions of Kaija Saariaho through a directed study with Dr. Caroline Ehman. In the process, he produced a paper on Saariaho's cello concerti which he has now shared at several conferences and festivals. A second directed study in fall 2017 with Dr. John Ritz further examined the technological and scientific foundations of spectral music. Finally, Jackson materialized these investigations through his master's thesis entitled, "Liminal Aesthetics: Perspectives on Harmony and Timbre in the Music of Olivier Messiaen, Tristan Murail, and Kaija Saariaho." Beyond spectral music, seminars on different eras of music history have also encouraged Jackson to explore such topics as non-Western influences in early music, musical rhetoric in the Age of Reason, and the exciting potential for incorporating multimedia into contemporary opera. Below you will find titles and abstracts for a selection of research papers Jackson completed while at the University of Louisville as well as a link to download his master's thesis.

Titles & Abstracts:

Liminal Aesthetics: Perspectives on Harmony and Timbre in the Music of Olivier Messiaen, Tristan Murail, and Kaija Saariaho. Master's Thesis completed for the Master of Music Degree in Music History and Literature. Defended April 12, 2019. Submitted April 26, 2019. Download the full thesis at ThinkIR!

Abstract: Harmony and timbre have traditionally been viewed as separate parameters by music scholars and treated as such by composers. Once timbre had been understood scientifically, however, as arising from a fundamental frequency and its overtones sounding at different amplitudes, it became desirable to replicate this structure in music. The composers associated with spectral music, a movement which first emerged in Paris in the 1970s, have enthusiastically explored this closer relationship between harmony and timbre, blurring the distinctions that once existed between these concepts. This thesis examines this new liminal relationship between harmony and timbre, asking how their closer unity has affected the aesthetic decisions made by composers in and around the spectral movement. The thesis takes a perspective which is historical and contextual, tracing this aesthetic shift through representative texts and scores by Olivier Messiaen, Tristan Murail, and Kaija Saariaho.

Timbre as a Structural Component in the Melodic Shaping of Three Compositions for Cello by Kaija Saariaho.

Submitted for "French Spectralism and the Music of Saariaho" on May 2, 2017.


Abstract: From the inception of French spectralism in the mid-1970s, melody had posed a problem for composers working within the orbit of this movement. The Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho who settled in Paris in the 1980s has been a great admirer of the music and ideas of French spectralism without sacrificing her own individuality. Her deep interest in sound and timbre, however, has not prevented her from also exploring the melodic possibilities inherent in the new music. Although in the 1980s and early 1990s timbre dominated her musical interests, from the mid-1990s Saariaho has worked to integrate her timbral explorations with a rediscovered interest in melody. This paper shall seek to understand how Saariaho has incorporated timbre as an essential factor in her melodic writing, tracing this development in three representative works for cello, an instrument for which she has written repeatedly thanks to her friendship and close working relationship with cellist Anssi Karttunen. Specifically, my paper shall consider the solo composition Petals and the two concerti, Amers and Notes on Light. Ultimately, it shall be shown that, as her career has progressed, Saariaho has elevated timbre into a structural component for crafting melody, a position previously held only by pitch and rhythm.


Musical Rhetoric in the Late Quartets, Wq. 93-95 of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

Submitted for "The Classical Style" on April 28, 2017.


Abstract: In his book Wordless Rhetoric: Musical Form and the Metaphor of the Oration, Mark Evan Bonds describes formal structure from a perspective which is not always taught or understood by today’s musicologists. Rather than detailing the intricacies of sonata form and other pre-set formal patterns, Bonds discusses musical composition as a type of rhetoric: an oration, in this case, without words. Bonds surveys the writings of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century music theorists who spoke of music as a rhetorical art, describing their views and the terminology they employed in order to synthesize a rhetorical approach towards analyzing eighteenth-century music. My paper will discuss the rhetorical approach proposed by Bonds and then apply this approach to an analysis of music by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). Specifically, I will analyze the first movements from two of Bach’s late quartets for flute, viola, and keyboard (1788): the first Quartet in A minor, Wq. 93 and the third Quartet in G major, Wq. 95. My analysis shall demonstrate the structure implicit in these works by Emanuel Bach, contrary to those who would dismiss Bach’s works as disorganized or unpredictable. Ultimately, Emanuel Bach’s late quartets shall be shown to contain a different means of organization, one easily compared to spoken rhetoric, in which an initial idea is presented and then convincingly argued with the effect of generating an organic formal structure.


Sinfonía India and the Manifestation of Mexican Nationalism in the Music of Carlos Chávez.

Submitted for "Bibliography and Research Methods" on April 13, 2017.


Abstract: The Sinfonía India, written by Mexican composer Carlos Chávez (1899-1978) in the winter of 1935 to 1936, was one of the most successful products of his Mexican Indianist nationalism. Like other music in this vein, it imagines what Mexican music sounded like before the Spanish conquest. It draws from archaeological research into the instruments of ancient cultures and ethnomusicological research into ancient music and its contemporary relatives. It then applies this knowledge to create a cohesive product for the modern symphony orchestra as supplemented by Indian instruments or present-day substitutes. Ultimately, by incorporating the novel timbres of Aztec and Yaqui instruments and the pentatonic character of indigenous melodies, Sinfonía India captures Chávez’s vision for a Mexican music finally liberated from European cultural domination.


Microscoping Sound: The Opening Pages of Kaija Saariaho’s Lichtbogen as Sonic Magnifying Glass.

Submitted for "French Spectralism and the Music of Saariaho" on March 28, 2017.


Abstract: In her 1987 article “Timbre and Harmony: Interpolations of Timbral Structures,” Kaija Saariaho reflects on the importance of exploring the most minute aspects of sound and how she utilizes these aspects to create a dynamic musical language crafted around timbre. This new approach towards composition, which she describes so eloquently in her writings, she realizes will be unfamiliar to most audiences, especially those hearing her music for the first time. Several of her compositions of the late 1980s, therefore, witness Saariaho first establishing a frame of reference in order to communicate this unfamiliar, microscopic sound world to her listeners. The opening pages of Lichtbogen for nine musicians and live electronics (1986) are particularly fascinating in this way: what for other composers might be a single sound becomes for Saariaho a world unto itself as the recitation of a single F-sharp is stretched into forty-one measures, approximately two minutes in length. Through this intensive exploration of a single sound, Saariaho offers listeners an opportunity to retune their ears towards delicate nuances in timbre, providing them with a context they can reference throughout this impressive composition.


The Progression from Order to Disorder in Prologue for solo viola by Gérard Grisey.

Submitted for "French Spectralism and the Music of Saariaho" on February 23, 2017.


Abstract: In many works produced by the spectral composers in the 1970s and 1980s, an essential process is the slow transition from consonance to dissonance, from order to disorder. It is this very process which underlies Grisey’s Prologue for solo viola (1976). As in other compositions written around this time, a section of a harmonic spectrum fused to a certain rhythmic motive is set as the foundational object of Prologue. Ultimately, as the music moves further away from this germinal idea through such processes as the blurring of periodicity, the introduction of inharmonic material, and the departure from conventional timbre, the listener perceives a slow progression from order to disorder.


Soldiers, Simultaneities, and a Spherical Conception of Time: Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Die Soldaten as a Maximalist Intensification of Alban Berg's Expressionist Theater. Submitted for "Opera Since 1900" on December 13, 2016.


Abstract: In the Oxford History of Western Music, Richard Taruskin defines maximalism as “a radical intensification of means toward accepted or traditional ends.” The German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) saw his music as just such an intensification, positioning his opera Die Soldaten (The Soldiers, 1957-65) as the next great opera in the line of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. Regarding these operas as pinnacles of "absolute" music theater, Zimmermann maximalized on their application of symphonic forms to dramatic ends through his construction of multiple temporal levels. Especially at key moments, Zimmermann allowed several scenes to run concurrently, something he accomplished through both musical and dramatic means. Above all, Zimmermann sought to recreate the inner dramatic unity of the original stage play upon which his opera was based and reorder seemingly disparate scenes according to what he called the “spherical form of time.” Ultimately, by maximalizing the musical and dramatic elements already latent in Berg’s Expressionist theater, Zimmermann crafted a new theatrical mode in which unity arises amid seemingly incoherent temporal and organizational levels.


Old World or New? Framing the Cultural Context of Two Polychoral, Concerted Mass Settings by Ignacio Jerusalem y Stella. Submitted for "Exoticism and Early Music" on December 5, 2016.


Abstract: A forgotten master of eighteenth-century music, Ignacio Jerusalem y Stella (1707-1769) was one of the most significant figures in Mexican music in the colonial age. As maestro de capilla of the Mexico City Cathedral from 1750 to 1769, Jerusalem exerted a tremendous influence over the sacred music of New Spain. This paper examines two polychoral settings of the Mass Ordinary in the keys of G major and D major composed by Ignacio Jerusalem during his tenure as maestro de capilla. In the process, the paper asks if his American surroundings encouraged any shifts in his musical language which might meaningfully be considered exotic in comparison to Mass settings by composers active in Europe at approximately that same time. In particular, the polychoral Mass in G major by José de Nebra – assistant maestro at the Royal Chapel in Madrid – shall also be considered. Ultimately, through their display of galant characteristics and multiple similarities with the Nebra setting, the polychoral Mass settings by Ignacio Jerusalem shall be shown to diverge little from the European mainstream, and instead become representative of a composer whose intent was to transplant this tradition in Mexico rather than incorporate influences from his American surroundings.

Tristan Murail
Kaija Saariaho
Carlos Chávez
Bernd Alois Zimmermann

© 2015-2020 by Jackson Harmeyer