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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Elisabeth Lutyens’s music drama The numbered : a critical-analytical study Parsons, Laurel


Composer Elisabeth Lutyens (1906-83) was one of the outstanding pioneers of musical modernism in Britain, and is credited with producing the first British serial composition (the 1939 Chamber Concerto, Op. 8, No. 1). Although Lutyens's music was widely performed and recorded by major orchestras, instrumentalists and conductors in the 1960's and 1970's, her work has yet to receive the scholarly attention it deserves. This dissertation represents the first detailed study of her magnum opus, the music drama The Numbered (1967). Based on Nobel laureate Elias Canetti's 1953 play Die Befristeten, The Numbered explores how the consciousness of death affects human behaviour. The opera is set in a fictitious society whose members are allotted lifespans by the State, and named according to the number of years they will live. The main character Fifty suspects, and eventually proves to the public, that the State's supposed power over death is a hoax. Political revolution ensues, but by revealing to the people that death can come at any time, Fifty has reintroduced into society the fear, violence, murder and madness that the system had successfully controlled. Chapter 1 provides an introduction to Lutyens's career as well as the pre- and post-compositional history of the opera. Chapter 2 is devoted to the origins and structure of the libretto, including a discussion of Canetti's dramatic theories. Chapters 3 through 10 focus analytically, theoretically and critically on aspects of Lutyens's compositional technique in the opera: melodic and vocal characterization; Lutyens's use of, and varying adherence to, serial methods; temporal organization; and motivic structure. The purpose of the critical analysis is twofold: first, to illuminate the interaction of musical and dramatic elements in a compelling work of art that has yet to be published or publicly performed; and second, to introduce the reader to characteristic features of Elisabeth Lutyens's musical language.

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