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Pymm, John Michael (2004) A Window to the Soul: Approaches to Text Setting in Steve Reich's "Tehillim". MPhil thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00033675

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Abstract

This thesis investigates Steve Reich's 1981 composition Tehillim, the composer's first mature setting of a text to music. The title is drawn from Reich's citation (in his Writings 1965-2000) of Jana?ek's aphorism that 'speech melodies are windows into people's souls' since Tehillim itself may be seen as a window to Reich's own soul (musical and spiritual) at this point. Reich's study of Biblical Hebrew in the 1970s led to a rediscovery of his Jewish heritage and he has often repeated the claim that the compositional style in Tehillim grows directly from the innate rhythms of the Hebrew text. This thesis considers the extent to which these claims may be justified. Chapter one presents an overview of Reich's views on language and its significance in his output prior to Tehillim. This focuses particularly on the use of speech extracts in his phase pieces Come Out and It's Gonna Rain together with a wider discussion of speech, language and emotion and takes account of the author's interview with the composer (contained in Appendix 1). Chapters two, three, four and five present in turn an analysis of the four movements of Tehillim. Each chapter includes a comparison between Reich's use of the Hebrew texts and the rhythms that emerge from readings of these texts by contemporary Jewish readers. This informs the analysis of the musical elements of Tehillim that Reich identifies as being associated with earlier Western musical practice: extended melodies, imitative counterpoint, functional harmony and orchestration. In chapter six, the findings of this analysis are presented. The results of the analysis show that rhythmic considerations are at the heart of Tehillim and that Reich uses the rhythms of the Hebrew text in a creative, rather than a literalistic, manner. These findings support Reich's perception of his compositional approach in Tehillim. There are two appendices. Appendix 1 contains a transcript of an interview between the author and Steve Reich. Appendix 2 contains Reich's liner notes from the 1982 Recording of Tehillim (ECM New Series 1215 827 411-2).

Item Type: Theses (MPhil)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00033675
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 17:18
URI: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/33675

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