Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Catherine Nolan


Claude Vivier’s (1947–1983) idiosyncratic and moving composition style often evades traditional, pitch-centred approaches to music-theoretical analysis; however, the somatic and sensual qualities of his style encourage a metaphorical appreciation of his music. This study analyses Wo bist du Licht! (1981) and the first two airs from Trois airs pour un opéra imaginaire (1982), which both feature his technique sinusoïdale, from the perspective of conceptual metaphor and musical forces. At the centre of this study are the dominant conceptual metaphors that linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson identify as being integral to our understanding of time, and which music theorist Arnie Cox demonstrates also underlie our concept of motion and change in music.

My approach builds on Steve Larson’s theory of musical forces, which qualifies the musical motion metaphor by invoking musical analogues to gravity, magnetism, and inertia. These, Larson demonstrates, operate in a predictable way in tonal music. The post-tonal context of Vivier’s music requires modification of Larson’s approach. To this end, I incorporate concepts borrowed from Robert Hatten and Matthew BaileyShea. From Hatten, I borrow the notion of a musical agent, and analogues to friction and momentum, only I qualify musical momentum as a combined perception of musical mass (manifested as register, density, and texture) and velocity (manifested as tempo). From BaileyShea, I borrow the concept of water and wind as non-sentient, unpredictable environmental forces. The wave and wind metaphors are particularly adept at conveying the changes in texture and intensity that the technique sinusoïdale affords. Because they complement force metaphors, I also include energy and other embodied, non-motion metaphors (e.g., kinetic/potential energy, pressure, timbre). Although not forces-based, timbre metaphors have corporeal connotations that are helpful in converying the changing mental states suggested in the second air of Trois airs.

These metaphors rely on our intuitive understanding of motion and embodied experience to convey musical change. They enable us to discuss more phenomenological, abstract musical attributes by drawing on a familiar vocabulary rooted in sensorimotor experience. This approach resonates particularly well with the sensual nature of Vivier’s music.