Towards a 'Paradise Garden': Aesthetics, Performance Practice and Organology in Jonathan Harvey's Bird Concerto with Pianosong

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The English composer Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012) is known for a wide-ranging oeuvre featuring many influential implementations of electro-acoustic tools and techniques. Through long-standing associations with IRCAM in Paris (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) and CCRMA at Stanford (Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics), among other institutional relationships, Harvey’s use of electro-acoustic tools always operated near the state of the art and thus necessitated a continual dependency on technical aid from “musical assistants.” Harvey thrived in this environment, and through his more than four decades of electro-acoustic work developed an increasingly decentralized notion of composition, where the challenges of collaboration and technical innovation served as compositional and aesthetic springboards for his already rich musical intuitions. Alongside this, a growing sense of mystical spirituality manifested as a sense that each of his works constituted an incomplete continuum of creative labor. Harvey’s spiritual and aesthetic outlooks, while inspiring and rejuvenating to those who worked with him, could often cause confusion in the time-sensitive environments of studio work. His legacy, while strong as a figurehead of musical mysticism, is riddled with incomplete documentation, and an increasingly inaccessible understanding of his performance practice, a knowledge-base distributed in bits and pieces among his many collaborators. In many respects, this distributive network is integral to his musical argument. This dissertation, which focuses on a performance study of Harvey’s luminous Bird Concerto with Pianosong (2001), argues for a multi-disciplinary approach to historical performance practice that integrates the perspectives of technologist, performer, and archivist into one collaborative complex. This mirrors Harvey’s own creative work in the studio as a polymath who surrounded himself with challenging and innovative perspectives. Archival research conducted at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel offers an intimate look at Harvey’s compositional thinking and provides meaningful context for how he approached studio work.

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300 pages


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composition; electroacoustic music; interpretation; mysticism; nature; performance practice


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Bjerken, Xak

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Hoy, Ronald Raymond
Richards, Annette
Ernste, Kevin M.

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D.M.A., Music

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Doctor of Musical Arts

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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