Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

James M. David: The Composer, His Compositional Style, and a Conductor's Analysis of Symphony No. 1 - Codex Gigas
by Loyd, Sheridan Monroe, M.M., Colorado State University, 2020, 200; 27838044
Abstract (Summary)

This thesis provides the first formal study of James M. David and analysis of his compositions. Through extensive interviews with the composer, the author provides a biographical account of the composer’s musical development and approach to composition, as well as a thorough description of the elements that constitute David’s unique compositional voice. His musical background cultivated an extensive knowledge of modernist and post-modernist compositional techniques. By applying these methods within a tonal landscape, David creates works that are enjoyable for both musicians and audience.

This document provides theoretical and rehearsal analyses of David’s Symphony No. 1 - Codex Gigas (2019). This study is unique, in that interviews with David were conducted as he was composing the symphony, offering insight into his compositional approach throughout the experience. The author observed the duration of David’s creative process, from initial sketches of the work to its completion in December 2019. David intended the work as a tribute to Czech-American composer Karel Husa, drawing inspiration from Husa’s Music for Prague 1968 (1968) and Apotheosis of this Earth (1970). Music for Prague 1968 presents a message of protest and hope for the fate of the Czech people during a time of political uncertainty and fear. Apotheosis of this Earth warns of mankind’s imminent destruction of the environment. David uses thematic, tonal, timbral, and rhythmic elements from both works as the foundation for his symphony.

A second layer to Symphony No. 1 - Codex Gigas is its historical inspiration from the Codex Gigas, a medieval manuscript shrouded in mystery. Considered an attempt to contain all of the world’s knowledge in one location, the Codex Gigas represents for David a persistent search for truth and wisdom. The book contains two large drawings: a vivid depiction of the devil lies opposite a separate image of the city of heaven. The unclear motive behind the drawings resulted in the book’s nickname, the “Devil’s Bible.” David creates a musical representation of these dualities: good and evil, darkness and light, even enlightenment and ignorance. He considers the Codex Gigas a metaphor for the preservation of knowledge, and how information can be used for the good of society as well as for individual gain. With modern technology, information is available at the push of a button. However, the increased accessibility of information creates the opportunity for misinformation, often obscuring truth. David uses rational rhythms and diatonicism to portray knowledge and reason, while irrational rhythms and chromaticism portray ignorance and poor intentions. Altogether, the symphony manifests a new work presented within a historical context to communicate the underlying message that, in the face of disinformation, truth and enlightenment will prevail.

Throughout Symphony No. 1 - Codex Gigas, David applies a contemporary approach to established compositional techniques from bygone musical eras, transforming them into innovative musical ideas. The work displays ingenuity in craftsmanship regarding David’s treatment and variation of motives, meticulous creation of mathematical patterns, and detailed treatment of timbres and percussion voices. Although the basis for many of David’s compositional techniques is very academic, their application within the work remains accessible to the listener. Through repetition and variation, David allows the listener to digest the alteration of themes and rhythmic ideas over the course of the work. Together, the four movements create a memorable musical experience, sure to take performers and audiences alike on an emotional journey.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Phillips, Rebecca L
Commitee: David, James M, Grapes, K Dawn, Kenney, Wes, Kodrich, Kris
School: Colorado State University
Department: Music, Theatre and Dance (School of)
School Location: United States -- Colorado
Source: MAI 81/12(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Music, Musical composition, Music theory
Keywords: Codex, Style, Symphony, David, James M.
Publication Number: 27838044
ISBN: 9798617052505
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