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Rethinking What Counts in Serial Music

J. Daniel Jenkins (University of South Carolina), Chair

Virgin Mary, Voce Interna, Hystericized Body: Simona Fabien’s Melodic Disintegration in Dallapiccola’s Volo di notte (1937–39)

Sabrina Clarke (West Chester University of Pennsylvania)

Sabrina Clarke is a music theorist and composer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her research involves gender and narrative in twentieth-century music, primarily focusing on the works of Luigi Dallapiccola and Amy Beach. She is also passionate about inclusive music theory pedagogy. She earned her Ph.D. from the Boyer College of Music, Temple University, in 2016, where she received the Presser Graduate Music Award, funding her archival research on Dallapiccola at the Archivio Contemporaneo Bonsanti in Florence, Italy. She has presented her research at national and international conferences including AMS/SMT, the Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic, the Music by Women Festival, the Women in the Creative Arts Conference at Australian National University, and regional meetings of CMS and AMS. Her monograph on Dallapiccola’s operas is slated for publication next year. She teaches music theory and composition at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.


Scholars have explored Dallapiccola’s formative use of twelve-tone technique, self-quotation, political subtext, and symbolism in his one-act opera Volo di notte (Earle 2013; Maier and Painter 2004; Fearn 1997; Shackelford 1987). However, the figure of Signora Fabien, wife of a doomed pilot and the sole individual to challenge airline director Rivière, remains largely neglected. This paper offers a new perspective on Simona Fabien as an agentic and redemptive figure. I demonstrate how Simona’s melodic disintegration—from lyrical dodecaphony to repetitive chromaticism—signifies the reclaiming of the feminine body as an act of protest.

While some scholars view Simona as symbol of domestic love and sacrifice, I show how Simona’s interaction with Rivière in scene four of the opera demonstrates the embodiment and voicing of hysteria as a radical act of redemption. Her evolution from penitence to heroic agency is evidenced by Dallapiccola’s use of material from his Tre laudi, hymns to the Virgin Mary, and references to the Voce interna, the sensual soprano line from the opera’s Movimento di Blues. As the Voce interna encroaches upon and displaces Tre laudi material, Simona’s emotional anguish crescendos, her hysteria an act of defiance.

At the pinnacle of Simona’s hysteria is the swift disintegration of melodic reprise; motives and phrases are attenuated, and pacing quickens through repetition of short, chromatic segments and unpredictable leaps. But Simona is not lost. Her hysteria leads to power through clairvoyance: she overtly predicts Rivière’s fate and foreshadows her husband’s death. Formidable and modern, Simona Fabien demands to be heard.

Stockhausen as Gender-Bender? Serial Systems of Structure and Sex in the Opera Cycle Licht

Paul V. Miller (Duquesne University)


Most scholars understand Stockhausen’s serial technique as one that essentially mitigates binaries. I argue that Stockhausen’s representation of gender also inhabits ambiguous space in his operatic heptology Licht. This is surprising because at first glance it seems Stockhausen reinforced traditional gender stereotypes in the three Gestalt-protagonists Michael, Eve and Lucifer. Without question, Stockhausen gendered specific intervals in the tone-rows associated with the protagonists. More surprising, he claimed that by dismembering and reassembling this coded material, he could create “half-beings” [Halbwesen], “hermaphrodites” [Zwitter], and “people who become androgynous.” These startling statements have been left uninterpreted by the Stockhausen community in the published literature. I begin to address this lacuna by analyzing serial mechanics in three pieces: Xi, Elufa and Lichter-Wasser, particularly with regard to ambiguities in serial order position and techniques of intermodulation. I conclude that questions of gender play a bigger role in Stockhausen’s operas than is generally recognized, and suggest ways in which this discussion could continue, particularly if the net is cast more broadly to encompass costume, movement, and libretto.