Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Intersection of Programmatic Gestures and Technical Difficulty in Thomas Adès's Lieux Retrouvés
by Moss, Sydney L., M.M., California State University, Long Beach, 2018, 25; 10785068
Abstract (Summary)

When considering concerti that challenge the cello to the very edge of its capabilities, the names that are consistently mentioned are Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Schumann and Tchaikovsky. While wonderfully crafted and lasting for their memorable melodies and technical challenges alike, the hardest works of conventional cello repertoire still functions within the instrument’s restraints despite the occasional expansion of cello technique. The traditional concerto format limited the composer due to its expected formal structure and exploration of music within the realm of absolute music and away from programmatic or extra-musical ideas. Composers were also constrained by the instrumentalists they were writing for, willingly altering the more technically difficult musical aspects in favor of playability. In comparison, contemporary English composer Thomas Adès expands the challenging techniques of cello performance in his work for cello and piano, Lieux retrouvés (2009), in an unprecedented fashion.

Beyond the rhythmic and harmonic complexity common to Adès’s compositions, the piece calls for the cellist to perform complex musical gestures to properly convey the character and mood of the four movements specific ‘places’ to ‘rediscover.’ Each movement is a scene: Les eaux (The Water), La montange (The Mountain), Les champs (The Fields), and La Ville (The Town). In each movement, cello and piano convey programmatic imagery and action. Lieux retrouvés, which translates to ‘places rediscovered’, has the characteristic technical demands of a concerto within the setting of a chamber work. The cello portrays extramusical ideas such as physical action and atmosphere with such technique as large shifts between positions in short succession, soft playing in the highest register of the cello, and complex chord shapes.

In this paper, I will argue that these denotive pictorial and programmatic moments in the work are among the most challenging technical moments for the cellist to express musically. I will first examine the piece and identify moments of particular difficulty in each movement and define why each of these examples are problematic for the performer. Then I will analyze the extramusical concepts they represent, whether it be a specific physical action related to a scene or creation of an atmosphere. Finally, I will note the importance of each of these musical gestures to the overall program of the piece.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Torres-Santos, Raymond
Commitee: Garrett, David B., Simeonov, Simeon
School: California State University, Long Beach
Department: Bob Cole Conservatory of Music
School Location: United States -- California
Source: MAI 58/01M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Music
Keywords: Ades, Thomas, Cello, Lieux retrouvés
Publication Number: 10785068
ISBN: 978-0-438-19634-6
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