The Art of Recomposition: Creativity, Aesthetics, and Music Theory
O'Hara, William Evan
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CitationO'Hara, William Evan. 2017. The Art of Recomposition: Creativity, Aesthetics, and Music Theory. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractTheoretical recomposition—the act of re-writing an existing piece of music in the service of a technical, aesthetic, or critical argument—is encountered frequently in critical and analytical writings on music. These recompositions, however, have rarely been commented upon. Not only are they mostly absent from secondary literature, but those who employ them rarely reflect on the creative and analytical processes involved, leaving their diagrams to speak for themselves. Through a study of theoretical treatises, pedagogical manuals, and academic and popular criticism, I demonstrate how recomposition often serves both conservative and progressive musical impulses simultaneously, and I analyze and critique its use in theoretical and pedagogical writings, exposing recomposition’s liminal aesthetic status: hovering between vibrant, audible music and inert diagram.
The first half of the study argues that recomposition has been as essential tool in music theory’s development since the eighteenth century, and it continues to be common in contemporary textbooks. By using theoretical recompositions to recast the history of music theory as a continual process of (re)negotiation among a variety of cultural forces—rather than an endless succession of monuments—I hope to open new lines of communication between theory and analysis, and musicology more generally. The second half of the study examines the ways in which theoretical recomposition reflects upon the act of listening itself. Various contemporary theories of listening—which approach music from such diverse perspectives as phenomenology, cognitive science, and reader-response theory—each attempt to generalize the same recompositional impulse that bubbles under the surface of my earlier historical and philosophical case studies: a desire, as Peter Szendy puts it, “to make my listening, listened to.” This realization demonstrates recomposition’s relevance not only for formal analysis, but also for the study of informal, “everyday” listening. It thus engages with, reinforces, and historicizes recent efforts by musicologists and sound scholars to explore the ways in which listening (musical or otherwise) involves not only passive processes of reception, but also active, and even creative, work on the part of the listener.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41140209
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