Elucidating the compositional praxis of a living composer, Thea Musgrave, through archival papers

Sasha Valeri Millwood

PhD, University of Glasgow, 2020



This thesis examines the affordances of archival research in elucidating
the compositional praxis of the composer Thea Musgrave (born 1928),
informed primarily but not exclusively by the papers she sold in
tranches from 2009 onwards to the British Library (GB-Lbl), where they
were arranged and catalogued as part of the research for this thesis.
These papers elucidate facets of Musgrave’s praxis that are not always
apparent from her publications and other primary sources.
The archive thus broadens the domain of primary-source evidence, yet it
is still a mediated collection that is not in all respects
representative. Such mediation, inasmuch as it is conditioned by the
praxis under interrogation, elucidates implicit priorities. Indeed, as a
composer who is still professionally active, the transfer of papers to
archival collections itself forms part of her praxis. This researcher,
whilst maintaining critical distance, has also availed himself of the
particular opportunities afforded by a living subject, having conducted
a pair of interviews with Musgrave.
Through the evidence afforded by archival papers and other primary
sources, this thesis situates Musgrave’s compositional praxis in
relation to wider traditions, practices, and professions. Her purview as
composer extends beyond devising and notating musical ideas, to
encompass various artistic, technical, and ambassadorial activities
furthering a tacit quest for canonical status for her oeuvre. As a
published composer working to commission, her praxis is artisanal and
collaborative to some extent, yet her compositional response is still
demonstrably individual, and she retains a prerogative as composer
resembling an auteur paradigm.