Spectral thinking in the music of George Benjamin

Scheuregger, Martin (2017) Spectral thinking in the music of George Benjamin. In: Spectralisms: an international conference, 15–16 March 2017, Faculty of Music, University of Oxford.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


Whilst the features of spectralism are diverse and difficult to define, there can be little doubt that in the music of George Benjamin there exist characteristics that are commonly regarded as being related to spectral thinking. As with many composers of the late twentieth century, the sounds of both the proto-spectralists and the early spectral pioneers resonate in the music of Benjamin. Approaches to colour and timbre, the use of organic structures, and the presence of spectral harmonies come together with a fastidious approach to orchestration to give this music its distinctive sound. Yet these factors do not define the music; it is not entirely spectral. There are moments of consonant, even functional, harmony; evidence of teleological thinking and a preference for change over stasis; and an impression that timbre enhances the music rather than acts as its impetus.

Benjamin's music is characterised by an acute sense of sonority, yet it is not all about the sound. Form plays a crucial role, and it is often the expression of this form through tonality and texture that is of primary importance. The music exists in a tension between localised timbre and large-scale structure: it can be enjoyed for the sounds one hears as much as the journey that is created.

This paper examines the place of spectral thinking in Benjamin's music and proposes a basis for understanding the relationship between timbre, harmony and form in his compositional approach(es). An analysis of A Mind of Winter (1981) will act as a case study from which broader issues relating to later works will be extrapolated. Analysis of localised and macro-level examples will inform conclusions that aim to open up a wider debate on this subject, and provide a starting point for the exploration of other works.

Keywords:Music, Spectralism, Spectralist, Composition, George Benjamin, British Music
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W300 Music
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Performing Arts)
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ID Code:35181
Deposited On:04 Mar 2019 07:27

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