Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"O Fortuna" and the Mythic Medieval: A Study in Multi-Media Receptions
by Clem, David B., Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 2020, 171; 27997330
Abstract (Summary)

This study posits register theory as a framework for discussing pre-existing music in multimedia. Even with all of their semiotic underpinnings, the present theories related to the analysis of musical multimedia are geared toward discourse surrounding one analytical object. While all of the various extant approaches are all useful in that regard, they do not adequately provide a means of discussing the layered meanings that arise when already existing music is paired with a number of different media across several decades. Instead of trying to expand any one of these approaches, I build upon Michael Long’s award-winning work that introduces register theory to the discourse of musical multimedia. Register theory is able to operate on multiple levels—one can look at a single musical gesture, as Long does, or at a piece of music as a whole. This facet makes it incredibly useful on a meta-conceptual plane, allowing us to go beyond the accepted confines of intertextual and semiotic analysis. Ultimately, though, it is the ability of register theory to operate on both micro and macro levels, that allows one to traverse multiple spaces and put analyses of different works into dialogue with each other. In the process, a discursive space is opened in which intertextual, semiotic, philosophic, and any number of other approaches and a potentially great variety of inter- and intra- disciplinary concerns can also be brought into dialogue.

As a case study I focus mostly on one song, “O Fortuna,” and offer some close readings of a variety of multimedia contexts in which it is used. Chapter one explores the troubled world of Carl Orff in an effort to paint a picture of the immediate context in which the song was created. I probe how Orff’s compositional philosophy fits into broader musicological constructs surrounding neoclassicism and modernist anxiety, viewing Carmina Burana as an act that participates in the mythologization of the Middle Ages for nostalgic purposes. In the process I suggest that perhaps this action is what opens the cantata up to be used for a number of different ideological purposes, as the Mythic Medieval often operates as an idyllic locale for the reification of contemporary agendas. Chapter two offers a detailed close reading of John Boorman’s film Excalibur. Here I use an against the grain reading to argue that Boorman uses “O Fortuna” along with a number of quotations from Wagner and many other filmic elements to create a Barthesian second order myth—a mythification of myth itself that inherently comments on the myths it uses. Chapter three explores connections between the Mythic Medieval and contemporary cultural constructs of the epic. I offer an analysis of multiple television advertisements to argue that “O Fortuna” and “Sunrise” from Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra are used in these ads to evoke the register of epic. In so doing, they tap into cultural constructions related to the same sort of nostalgic Medievalism Orff seems to have been engaged in. In this context, though, they play on these connections to modernist anxieties to offer their ostensible cures—a moment of idyllic respite or a technological marvel that will usher in a bright new future—with a bold irony that is designed to undercut their message by playing to the expectations of a knowing modern subject. I then offer some concluding thoughts about what kinds of questions, particularly related to pre-existing music in multimedia contexts, register theory might be used to answer.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Currie, James
Commitee: VanderWel, Stephanie, Moseley, Brian
School: State University of New York at Buffalo
Department: Music
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 81/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Music history, Music, Music theory
Keywords: O Fortuna, Pre-existing music in film, Register Theory
Publication Number: 27997330
ISBN: 9798641253916
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