Through the Mangrove Tunnels, for String Quartet, Piano, and Drum Set, and “Musical Signification in Thomas Adès’s The Tempest”
This dissertation consists of two parts: a composition for chamber ensemble and an article discussing musical signification in Thomas Adès’s opera, The Tempest.
Through the Mangrove Tunnels is a forty-five minute composition inspired by my experiences growing up in the swamps and bayous of Florida. Its eight movements for string quartet, piano, and drum set are drawn from my memories as well as the colorful history of Weedon Island, a nature preserve in St. Petersburg that I spent much of my childhood exploring. The island’s many legends include ceremonial gatherings of Native Americans, landings by Spanish conquistadors, burned-down speakeasies, shootouts, bootlegging, a failed movie studio, plane crashes, and an axe-murder. Despite the island’s long history of encounters with humans, to the newcomer it appears to be a pristine natural landscape. Though they have been almost fully reclaimed by nature, traces of its history remain: the line in the dirt of a long-forgotten runway, an ancient sea-faring canoe buried in the mud. The piece evokes this history in impressionistic fashion alongside my personal memories of canoeing through the island’s mangrove tunnels. In combining these stories the continuum of past and present are collapsed, resulting in an exploration of the relationships between memory, history, place, home, and the natural world.
In the article I demonstrate how a complex hierarchy of associative musical ideas are used to represent specific characters and ideas in Thomas Adès’s Shakespearean opera The Tempest (2004). At the top of this hierarchy are two interval cycles, the dyadic cycle and the <2,3,4> aligned cycle, which together inform the majority of both melodic and harmonic material in the opera. The dyadic cycle is primarily associated with Prospero, the artifice of his magic, and his plan for vengeance. Consisting of a repeated sequence of three descending dyads (P5, P5, M6) pivoting around a connective half step, it generates the storm music that opens the opera as well as much of the music surrounding both Prospero and Caliban. The <2,3,4> aligned cycle is associated with the love between Miranda and Ferdinand, accompanying both characters’ introductions. It consists of three vertically stacked, concurrent interval cycles of two, three, and four half steps. At the bottom of the hierarchy of musical materials, and with the most associative specificity, are four leitmotifs that are responsible for creating dramatic meaning in the music: Prospero’s Revenge, Miranda’s Defiance, Nature, and Reconciliation. As these leitmotifs combine and develop, they generate a narrative in which Prospero’s grand plans for retribution are thwarted by Miranda and Ferdinand’s love, leading instead to reconciliation and freedom from his magical control.
I begin the article by defining "leitmotif" within the analytic framework introduced in Matthew Bribitzer-Stull's book Understanding the Leitmotif, justifying the use of the term in my analysis. Next, I offer critical analysis of scholars’ readings of he harmonic language of and signification in the opera, focusing on prior analytical works by Emma Gallon, Hélène Cao, John Roeder, and Philip Stoecker, reviews, and Adès's own words (including both published interviews and my private conversations with the composer). After a brief exploration of the opera’s historical precedent in Berg’s Lulu, I outline my hierarchical system of associative musical material in The Tempest, followed by my reading of the opera.
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