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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Texture in Elliott Carter’s A mirror on which to dwell Ravenscroft, Brenda


This study proposes a theory of texture for Elliott Carter's song cycle A Mirror on Which to Dwell. Texture is an important structural aspect of much recent music, as is exemplified in Carter's music. The first chapter is introductory and discusses other textural theories, and the concept of auditory streams. It also provides background to Elizabeth Bishop and to the poems that Carter selected for the cycle, and introduces the song cycle as a whole. The second chapter outlines a textural theory based on streaming. Texture is defined as comprising those contextually defined aspects of sound which lead one to perceive music as consisting of distinct streams. Individual streams are defined by properties, behaviours processes. The ways in which streams are combined, and the changes that occur in the streams during the combinations constitute textural behaviours and processes. The third chapter presents the ways in which textural behaviours and processes can function. They can have symbolic functions by representing personae and actions in the text. They can also have musical functions and thus can play a role in the delineation of form. In the fourth chapter each song in the Mirror cycle is analyzed. Songs that are texturally clear are analyzed first, followed by those that are more texturally complex. Because of the close relationship between text and music in these songs, each analysis starts with a discussion of the text before turning to the music. The main textural features of each song are presented, and then the analytical discussion focuses on form and text-setting. In the conclusion an overview of the songs is presented. The songs, although formally diverse, are similar in many respects. In all of them Carter establishes the important streams, some of which have significant symbolic roles, in the opening measures. The songs are characterized by similar textural processes, which help to delineate the form of the songs and to portray musically the meaning of the text. An analysis of these songs using the textural theory presented in this study provides insight into their form and meaning.

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