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Sounds Of Freedom/Liberation/Demilitarization

Rachel Lumsden (Florida State University), Chair

Cage and Joyce: Finnegans Wake, Demilitarized Language and Demilitarized Music

Jeffrey Perry (Louisiana State University)


John Cage first read excerpts from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in the late 1920s in transition magazine. The novel influenced Cage’s compositional practice in both specific and diffuse ways. I explore The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942) and Solo for Voice 47 (1970) as specific examples of a transfer of Joycean text and, just as importantly, Joycean structural processes to Cage’s work; a more diffuse connection exists in Cage’s embrace of collage-like compositional methods and the circus performance ethos in works from 1967 (Musicircus) onward, to which Solo 47 points.

The play of Finnegans Wake with and against sense and syntactic control helped guide Cage’s search for a verbal analog to the “noise” he began incorporating into his music from the late 1930s onward. It became the source of texts and/or titles for many of Cage’s works, both musical and poetic. Touching briefly on parallels with Cage’s ways of assimilating other influences, especially Henry David Thoreau, I examine the uses to which Cage puts Joyce’s words in the two works named above, and touch on several of his textual works, including Writing Through Finnegans Wake/7 out of 23 (1977) and the text-piece Muoyce (1982) to determine precisely what the Cage of the 1930s found in Joyce’s final novel and how the Joycean motto Here Comes Everybody served Cage as a metonym for his creative practice and ethos in the final quarter-century of his life.

The Musical Language of Freedom and Oppression in Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison’s Margaret Garner

Andrew Pau (Oberlin College & Conservatory)


The ninetieth anniversary of the birth of Toni Morrison (1931–2019) provides an apt occasion to reconsider the Nobel Prize-winning author’s most substantial contribution to music, namely her libretto for Richard Danielpour’s opera Margaret Garner (2005). Morrison’s libretto is based on the same real-life story that inspired her novel Beloved. Margaret Garner was a slave who escaped with her family from Kentucky to Ohio in 1856. When the group was recaptured, Margaret killed her daughter rather than see the child returned to slavery. 

Throughout the two acts of Margaret Garner, Morrison’s words depicting the harrowing experiences of the slaves are set by Danielpour using octatonic collections [0,1] and/or [2,3], thus establishing a connection between these pitch collections and the institution of slavery and the toxic masculinity of the antihero, slaveowner Edward Gaines. By contrast, when Gaines seeks escape in youthful memories or when the slaves seek escape in a joyful harvest celebration, all traces of octatonicism are purged in favor of pitches from various diatonic and pentatonic collections. The octatonic and diatonic/pentatonic collections are jarringly opposed in several other pivotal dramatic scenes, with Margaret finally choosing death and freedom (represented by the white-key diatonic collection) over continued life in slavery.

The historical record is remarkably silent about the thoughts and sentiments of the real Margaret Garner. In examining the musical language of freedom and oppression in Danielpour and Morrison’s opera, I aim to illuminate the ways in which they have given voice to an unsung heroine.

Supplementary Material(s)

Organicism as Algorithm in Julius Eastman’s The Holy Presence of Joan d'Arc

Jordan Lenchitz (Florida State University)


Julius Eastman’s untimely death in May 1990 was a tragedy for the entire world of music but especially damning for would-be scholars of his music. Providentially, the combination of Clarice Jensen’s recent herculean effort in transcribing Eastman’s 1981 tour de force for ten cellos The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc (henceforth Joan). The commercial release of its irreplaceable recording brings us closer than ever to one of Eastman’s largest through-composed works performed under his direction. Combining study of the composition itself with consideration of archival recordings of Eastman speaking about his worldview and his musics, I argue that structural recurrences across large time spans demonstrate how Eastman’s stretching of his own conception of “organic music” functionally serves as a flexible compositional algorithm in Joan. Though not the result of a strict nor an entirely hands-off process, this piece’s flexible algorithmic construction nonetheless challenges the over-valorization of improvisatory structures in Eastman’s through-composed works. By considering his compositional decisions in this last of his “organic music” pieces, we can gain a window into his intuitive and unique command of structural coherence within what would come to be recognized as an early contribution to post-minimalist musical discourse. After untangling Eastman’s idiosyncratic idea of organic music and situating this work alongside its intended political message, I demonstrate how strategic repetitions and transformations create an additive formal structure on the largest scale and align with Joan’s extramusical expressive aims by creating a musical universe where no amount of oppression can extinguish the spirit of counter-hegemonic liberators.