Research has been an essential component to my student career. I currently hold an M.M. in Music History and Literature from the University of Louisville where I completed a master's thesis titled, "Liminal Aesthetics: Perspectives on Harmony and Timbre in the Music of Olivier Messiaen, Tristan Murail, and Kaija Saariaho." Before that I earned a B.A. in Liberal Arts from the Louisiana Scholars' College where I also completed an undergraduate thesis titled, "Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers." In addition to my theses, term papers and shorter essays have encouraged me to explore a wide variety of topics, many of which have now found further expression through Program Notes and MusicCentral blog posts. Below find titles and selected abstracts for my student research papers.
Undergraduate Thesis Defense
Graduate Research, University of Louisville
Thesis: "Liminal Aesthetics: Perspectives on Harmony and Timbre in the Music of Olivier Messiaen, Tristan Murail, and Kaija Saariaho," Apr. 12, 2019.
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.
"Gilda and Violetta: Fallen Women and Redemption through Death in two Operas by Giuseppe Verdi," Apr. 23, 2018.
"Timbre as a Structural Component in the Melodic Shaping of Three Compositions for Cello by Kaija Saariaho," 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," Apr. 28, 2017.
"'Sinfonía India' and the Manifestation of Mexican Nationalism in the Music of Carlos Chávez," Apr. 13, 2017.
Abstract: The Sinfonía India, written by Mexican composer Carlos Chávez 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," Mar. 28, 2017.
"The Progression from Order to Disorder in 'Prologue' for solo viola by Gérard Grisey," Feb. 23, 2017.
"Soldiers, Simultaneities, and a Spherical Conception of Time: Bernd Alois Zimmermann's 'Die Soldaten' as a Maximalist Intensification of Alban Berg's Expressionist Theater," Dec. 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 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," Dec. 5, 2016.
Undergraduate Research, Louisiana Scholars' College
Thesis: "Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers," Apr. 10, 2013.
Abstract: Expected to adhere to the strict dictates of Socialist Realism, many Soviet composers found refuge and salvation in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, incorporating its influence into their own compositions in a variety of ways. Composers key to this movement include Dmitri Shostakovich, Arvo Pärt, Alfred Schnittke, and Sofia Gubaidulina. In his fight against Stalin, Shostakovich invoked Bach’s aid by employing the forms, genres, and conventions of his Baroque predecessor. Later, Pärt and Schnittke would represent Bach as the only possible victor in the ideological battle between the Soviet Union’s official policy of conservatism and the encroaching avant-garde. More recently, Gubaidulina has attempted to parallel the balance she perceives in Bach’s music between its intellectual and intuitive aspects. Ultimately, for many composers forced to work under the totalitarianism of Socialist Realism, the legacy of Bach proved to be both an invaluable refuge from oppression and a vital source for new inspiration.
"The Battle Between Experimentalism and Populism and its Effect Upon the Fate of Soviet Music," May 1, 2013.
Abstract: In the aftermath of the October Revolution, the fate of Soviet music remained undecided. While both progressives and conservatives agreed that music had to appeal to the newly liberated proletarian masses, they disagreed about how this goal might be accomplished. On one side, progressives argued that music should remain on the Modernist path that it had begun to take prior to the revolution for this music would appeal to the true proletariat that had yet to emerge. On the other side, conservatives argued for a musical language that would appeal to the proletariat in its present state. While the former ideology won tremendous support at first, the latter proved victorious and became the foundation for the policy of Socialist Realism.
"Leonard Bernstein: Advocate of American Music," Apr. 22, 2013.
"Polish Compositions for a Polish Pope: Comparing the Views Expressed by Pope John Paul II on Sacred Music with those Compositions of Henryk Górecki and Krzysztof Penderecki Specifically written for the Holy Father," Dec. 12, 2012.
Abstract: When the Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1978, Poland was entering a period of political turmoil that resulted in the declaration of martial law in 1981. The freedoms that had existed for Polish artists since 1956, however, had allowed a number of Polish composers to flourish, including Henryk Górecki and Krzysztof Penderecki. Yet, even a few years before 1981, both composers had simplified their musical languages—although with widely differing results—and had begun to emphasize religious themes within their music. Unsurprisingly, these two leading figures in Polish music allied with the new pope and, within years of his election, both men had composed pieces in his honor: in 1979, Górecki presented Beatus vir and, a year later, Penderecki presented his Te Deum. In 1987, on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s third pilgrimage to Poland, Górecki contributed a second work in his honor, Totus Tuus. Finally, in 2005, Penderecki mourned the Holy Father’s passing through his bereaved Chaconne. Through these four compositions each written for Pope John Paul II, Górecki and Penderecki demonstrate their allegiance with the Holy Father as well as a shared understanding of what constitutes legitimate sacred music.
"Opera in Transition: From the Rigid Aria-Recitative Structure to the Organic Continuous Melody of the 'Leitmotiv,'" Nov. 29, 2012.
"Rameau's 'Pièces de Clavecin': Depictions of His Surroundings yet also Reflections of His Own Eccentricities and Creative Philosophy," Apr. 16, 2012.
Abstract: Both a theorist and composer, Jean-Philippe Rameau was one of the most influential figures working in France during the late Baroque era. Although he did not truly establish himself in either of these roles until halfway through his life, Rameau, after finally settling in Paris in 1722, quickly gained the recognition in these fields that would extend until his last few years. Among the first works that Rameau composed, the five suites of Pièces de clavecin include many genre pieces, compositions that musically depict a particular mood, person, or thing. Although many of the details remain unknown about a number of the genre pieces found among these collections and elsewhere in Rameau’s catalog of harpsichord music, these works certainly reflect their creator, his personal eccentricities, and his philosophy toward composition as much as they reflect the subjects that he wished to depict.
"The Transformation in Minimalism: Departure from the Avant-Gardism of Early Minimalism and the Emergence of a Post-Minimal Aesthetic," Nov. 28, 2011.
"Shakespeare's Use of Music within his Tragedies and their Reinterpretation by Generations of Composers," May 2, 2011.
"The War of the Romantics: The Nineteenth-Century Debate Between Continuity with the Past and Music of the Future," Apr. 27, 2011.
"The Establishment of the Concerto for Orchestra: A Response to the Formal Constraints of the Symphony and the Inequality of the Concerto," Apr. 27, 2011.
"Gustav Mahler's Reinterpretation of 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn': The Transformation from 'Volkslied' to 'Kunstlied,'" Apr. 14, 2011.
"First Principles: The Orchestration Methods of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov," Mar. 25, 2011.
"Portraits of America: An Investigation into the Distinctly American Compositions of Aaron Copland," Dec. 8, 2010.
"Felix Mendelssohn and the Past: Influences upon his Style and Attempts at Revival," Nov. 19, 2010.
"A Climactic Finale: Music for Harpsichord in the Latter-Half of the Eighteenth Century," Oct. 6, 2010.
"Johann Sebastian Bach's Harpsichord Concerti: Models of Virtuosity," Apr. 28, 2010.
"Antonio Vivaldi's 'L'estro armonico': An Exploration into the Early History of the Concerto," Mar. 31, 2010.
"Analyzing the Film Scores of John Williams: The Use of Romanticism and 'Leitmotiv' to Recreate Musically the Action on Screen," Dec. 14, 2009.
Abstract: The film composers of Hollywood's Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s, figures like Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, used Romantic-era opera as a model for their film scores, preserving the large orchestra and expressive drama fostered by Richard Wagner and others. By the 1960s and 1970s, however, the classical film score was often replaced by pop tunes, and some filmmakers even questioned the necessity of an actual score. Looking a generation back for his inspiration, John Williams has utilized a colorful neo-Romantic idiom to create specific musical themes to portray characters and emotions. With his immediately familiar music, Williams has resurrected the classic film score by creating music that retains the accessibility of pop tunes but is better-suited to musically recreate and expand upon the visual dimension of the film.
"An Investigation into Guillaume de Machaut's 'Messe de Nostre Dame,'" Nov. 20, 2009.
"Mysteries of the 'Magnus liber organi,'" Nov. 4, 2009.
"'Cantigas de Santa Maria': Sacred Music from the Spanish Court of Alfonso X," Sep. 23, 2009.
"Augustine's 'De Musica': A Look at Music in the Early Church," Sep. 4, 2009.