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Attinello, Paul Gregory

The Interpretation of Chaos: A Critical Analysis of Meaning in European Avant-Garde Vocal Music, 1958-68

Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles, 1997

The Summer Courses in Darmstadt are often considered to represent a `school' of serialism, strict formalism and high modernism. However, beginning around the time of Cage's visit in 1958 and continuing until about the May riots of 1968, compositions were written by Schnebel, Kagel and Bussotti which can be interpreted as imaginative attacks on the forms and concepts of modernism. In works such as Schnebel's fuer stimmen... missa est, Kagel's Hallelujah and Bussotti's pieces de chair II, composers created a `postmodern Darmstadt' style which also involves works by Ligeti (Aventures / Nouvelles aventures), Stockhausen (Momente) and Berio. Aspects of content such as the visceral body, anti-narrative, isolated gesture, and `incoherency' are shown to be crucial. Philosophical constructs such as deconstruction and the implosion of autonomy appear as essential constructive principles, leading towards the expansion of our philosophical understanding of musical postmodernism.

Recently published research by Borio and Trudu supports a less hierarchical, more diverse understanding of the Darmstadt avant-garde, acknowledging that some of the corporeal, theatrical styles of music in the 1960s are distinct from and even opposed to the serialism with which they are often grouped. The act of disentangling accepted influences from rebellious reactions suggests a very different history of the stylistic developments in Darmstadt, and indicates more isomorphism between American and European music of the 1960s than is widely acknowledged. More importantly, it helps to clarify the series of turning points between modernism and postmodernism in western twentieth-century music, and our still blurred distinctions between those cultural periods.