Of My Own for Woodwind Quintet and String Quartet; Constructing a Compositional Language through Musical Borrowing: Joan Tower’s Homage to Beethoven, Steps, and Made in America

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2021

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This dissertation consists of two distinct parts. The first is an original music composition. The second is an analytical article about Joan Tower’s musical language through the lens of musical borrowing in three works.Chapter 1, Of My Own, is composed for woodwind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn) and string quartet (violin I, violin II, viola, cello). This composition experiments with minimalistic repetition, ambiguous harmonic motion, sectional juxtapositions of form, and motivic transformation, while maintaining an accessible style through clear narrative development. Inspired by current events surrounding women’s rights, Of My Own, focuses its narrative on three coming-of-age stories from the perspectives of a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter. Over the course of twenty minutes, each of the three movements functions individually but also includes overlapping musical themes and other structural similarities. Chapter 2, “Constructing a Compositional Language Through Musical Borrowing: Joan Tower’s Homage to Beethoven, Steps, and Made in America,” attempts to discover the ways in which American composer Joan Tower developed a compositional language through musical borrowing. Over Tower’s long career, many of her compositions have been dedicated to friends and performers; however, a subset pays homage to influential composers and historically important works, while still exhibiting the personal compositional language characteristic of Tower’s pieces from the second half of her career. This group of works features borrowings from the music of Beethoven, Carter, Copland, Debussy, Messiaen, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, and Samuel A. Ward. As a self-described “intuitive” composer, Tower insists that her music is only reactive to local musical events and that her work must be experienced contextually as a whole because pitch, rhythm, register, dynamics, etc. cannot mean anything in isolation; she maintains that each element is “dependent on its environment for its identification.” Despite her stature as an important American composer, Tower’s compositional methods and musical language have been insufficiently studied by contemporary scholars. Previous research and interviews with the composer contain contradictory information about Tower’s intuitive approach and various compositional processes. Furthermore, her use of pre-existing material, revisions, and pre-compositional plans complicate an understanding of her musical language in the context of her intuitive process. Through a comparative and teleological study of Joan Tower’s musical borrowings, this article offers insight into Tower’s compositional language through an examination of three pieces: Concerto for Piano (Homage to Beethoven), Steps, and Made in America.

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Kinney, Dayton Louise (2021). Of My Own for Woodwind Quintet and String Quartet; Constructing a Compositional Language through Musical Borrowing: Joan Tower’s Homage to Beethoven, Steps, and Made in America. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/24407.

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