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This dissertation examines counterpoint and polyphony in John Adams's recent instrumental works, ranging from El Dorado (1990) to My Father Knew Charles Ives (2003). Since the early 1990s, Adams's music has been largely contrapuntal, as opposed to his earlier works, culminating with Nixon in China (1985–87), which are characterized by gradually unfolding harmonies in a minimalist and post-minimalist style. In the first chapter of the dissertation, I will define the terms counterpoint and polyphony, and discuss recent research on Adams, minimalism, and counterpoint. The second chapter sheds light on the characteristics of individual melodic lines, including a discussion of melodic intervals, common modifications of single lines, and Adams's incorporation of Nicolas Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. The third chapter examines different types of two-voice melodic lines common to Adams's recent instrumental works, consisting of ostinati, reiterating fragments, and canonic procedures. The interaction between concurrent musical lines is approached through the linear similarity measure CDSIM (Consonance/Dissonance Similarity Index), which yields a numerical value of consonance or dissonance. The fourth chapter extends the discussion of canonic procedures to three or more voices. The fifth chapter investigates polyphonic textures that appear throughout the recent instrumental works. Last, I explore the notion of dovetailing, defined as the minimalist process of overlapping formal sections, which is enabled through a merging of polyphony and gradual additive and subtractive processes.
A Dissertation Submitted to the College of Music in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Michael Buchler, Professor Directing Dissertation; Charles E. Brewer, Outside Committee Member; Jane Piper Clendinning, Committee Member; Nancy Rogers, Committee Member; Matthew R. Shaftel, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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