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Abstract

This dissertation contends with the simple observation that modernist composers display a collective and rather sudden aversion to melody after World War II; I examine why this might be so while showing how melody continues to haunt this repertory in drastically reimagined forms. Edward Cone and other critics bemoan this anti-melodic turn and raise its political and ethical stakes by invoking what I call the “vocal imaginary,” which links melody, voice, and human subjectivity in a distinctly Rousseauian line of argumentation. In reality, Cone’s fears that the musical subject might disappear altogether in modernist music have not come to pass: the work and thought of postwar musical modernism remains flooded with “voices,” but voices of a different kind. The pages of this dissertation are filled with voices that don’t sing; instruments that do; singing that comes from a speaking voice and melody that comes from a mass texture; singing, melody, and voice that are obstructed in a stunning variety of ways. Using as my examples compositions by Salvatore Sciarrino, Steve Reich, Iannis Xenakis, and Helmut Lachenmann, I explore how a rejection of the “phenomenal” or standardized practices of voice is enacted such that the voice is reborn as “noumenal:” uncategorizable, unparseable, uniquely alive. The turn away from traditional modes of voice and melody can be understood as a melancholic response to modernity, and specifically its conditions of mass production and scientism.

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