Lecture and Research

Just at the end of the last full week of classes in the spring semester here at Notre Dame, I gave the lecture portion of my DMA lecture recital. I delivered portions of the third chapter of my thesis, entitled 'Temporal Unfolding'. It fall in a larger discussion of the passions by the Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds. My research is particularly aimed at an analysis of the musical and textual eclecticism in his Passion and Resurrection and St. Luke Passion. I discuss Ešenvalds' eclecticism as a function of a larger postmodern stylistic tendency, which also has roots in the Latvian choral tradition. My particular focus is on the relationship between the postmodern stylistic elements, and Ešenvalds' clear religious motivations, evident in the passions' evangelical concern. I want to ask how the ostensibly 'unified' and 'synthetic' spiritual orientation of Ešenvalds' passions coexist with the perspectival, eclectic nature of the music.

Chapter three examines the temporal model that Ešenvalds uses to organize his textual and musical materials. To do this, I contrast his passions to Bach's St. Matthew Passion, focusing particularly on the relationship between the audience and the time of the story, or between a 'present' and a 'past' in the music. Ešenvalds' general approach is to collapse the ontological gap between the two, causing the audience to feel more directly immersed in the story, rather than feeling it to be a past story that is being represented in the present. I refer to David Harvey's theory of 'time space compression' to show that this kind of temporal experience is mimetic of our our technologically-mediated experience of complex temporal and spatial elements in an expanded present.

This discussion relates to Ešenvalds' larger strategy of telling the passion story through the eyes of particular characters: Mary Magdalene and the Prodigal Son. These 'disenfranchised' characters provide a culturally relevant, alternative narrative space from which to tell the stories, giving their message greater creditability. Furthermore, the fact that this story is told experientially, by means of these characters, allows the audience to absorb the meaning of the passion through an empathetic association with each character. Thus, the passions work on an evangelical level, but in such a way that postmodern audiences can relate to the story. Musical meaning in these works resides in a space between authorial intention and the individual listener. 'Truth' is presented in an objective sense, but through a subjective experience, and without a sense of coercion.

Overall, I'm very glad I had the chance to give the lecture, because it helped me to think about the large picture of my argument. It also helped me to see that this topic is of interest to my colleagues and to the faculty. It will most likely be a topic I will continue to return to in the future.