Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


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Publication Details

Thesis submitted for the qualification of PhD to Technological University Dublin, Conservatory of Music and Drama, May 2014.


This thesis examines Adorno’s concept of ‘disintegrated musical material’ and applies it to the work of the Irish composers Raymond Deane (b. 1953), Gerald Barry (b. 1952) and Kevin Volans (b. 1949). Although all three of these composers have expressed firm commitments to the ideal of creating new and radical works, much of the material in their music is composed of elements abstracted from the tonal past. This feature of their work would seem contrary to the views of Adorno, who is commonly seen as advocating progressive composition using only the most advanced means. This view comes across most strongly in Philosophy of New Music—his most well-known book on music—in which Stravinsky is accused of musical regression with his ‘inauthentic’ use of folkloric and archaic forms from the past.

On this basis the so-called postmodernist period of the past forty years— which has encouraged the playful re-incorporation of historical material—would seem very much out of step with Adorno’s modernist aesthetics. However in some of his lesser known writings on Mahler, Berg, Bartók, and even in some earlier work on Stravinsky, Adorno managed to discern a number of positive aspects to their reincorporation of disintegrated materials in a way that would seem to contradict his verdict on Stravinsky in Philosophy of New Music. This thesis aims to unravel the issues at the heart of this contradiction to see if a radical musical aesthetic based on such material remains a possibility in the era of postmodernism. Through a detailed examination of the work of these three composers, this study aims to demonstrate how this material is recycled in their music in a way which attains new structural interrelations that transcend the fragmentary nature of the material itself.