Stage Personas and Environmental Languages in Musical Theatre Analysis

Braae, Nick (2020) Stage Personas and Environmental Languages in Musical Theatre Analysis. Royal Music Association Annual Conference, Goldsmiths University, London, 8-10 September, 2020. (Unpublished)

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Abstract or Summary

The musicological study of musical theatre is a relatively unexplored area of enquiry. One of the challenges is the stylistic diversity of the idiom, ranging from ‘lite’ classical (e.g. Lloyd Webber), to pastiche of both contemporary and historical popular styles (e.g. Lin Manuel Miranda), to the idiosyncratic techniques in of individual composers (e.g. Menken cf. Sondheim). It is perhaps for this reason that authors often focus on word-painting or motif/leitmotif analysis (e.g. Sternfeld 2006) – that is, small-scale musical devices that can be interpreted in relation to specific lyrical and book content. This paper argues that Moore’s (2005, 2012) persona-environment model may be a useful analytical tool for understanding the varied stylistic worlds in musical theatre. I propose that individual shows can be defined by a particular ‘environmental’ musical language that frames the characters’ setting and/or emotional states. I articulate this idea with reference to The Last Five Years (2001) and what I describe as Jason Robert Brown’s ‘language of distance’—the open chord voicings, sparse arrangements, and frequent pedal points evoke the lack of emotional connection between the two characters, on account of the wide and ambiguous harmonic and textural space. This same environmental language is utilised in Dogfight by Pasek and Paul, but fused with a ‘language of dreaming’ (shimmering textures, modulations in thirds, Dorian modal progressions) that captures the main characters’ internal conflict throughout the show: yearning for a connection but split apart by war and societal pressures.  

Item Type:Item presented at a conference, workshop or other event which was not published in the proceedings
Keywords that describe the item:Musical Theatre, Analysis, Style, Interpretation
Subjects:M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Divisions:Schools > School of Media Arts
ID Code:7410
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Deposited On:05 Nov 2020 05:27
Last Modified:05 Nov 2020 05:27

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