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Desire in Chromatic HarmonyA Psychodynamic Exploration of Fin de Siècle Tonality$
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Kenneth M. Smith

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190923426

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190923426.001.0001

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Transcending Root Motion

Transcending Root Motion

Productive Death Drives and Cybernetic Cycles in Charles Ives and Aaron Copland

(p.90) Chapter Three Transcending Root Motion
Desire in Chromatic Harmony

Kenneth M. Smith

Oxford University Press

The third chapter studies the third movement (“The Alcotts”) of Charles Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, Mass., 1840–1860, and demonstrates how Ives's harmony short-circuits the philosophies of the New England Transcendentalists, anticipating post-Lacanian psychological complexity. Along with Ives’s transcendental project, the chapter looks to Copland’s opera The Tender Land, which exchanges static octatonic minor-third cycles with major-third cycles (as in Ives), but this now expands in scale, exhibited in two key scenes from the work. The expanding harmonic rotation portrays the sexual awakening of the naïve young subject of the opera, Laurie Moss. In their broader function the cycles speak of the regeneration of the American landscape and the families who settle on it. Taking a cue from Lacan, who became influenced by the emerging American meta-discipline of “cybernetics” we interrogate the operations of these cycles as feedback-loops that propel desire forwards through constant rotation and exploration.

Keywords:   Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Cybernetics, The Tender Land, Concord Sonata

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