Dr Sam Wilson

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Sam is currently researching his PhD, his thesis being entitled ‘An Aesthetics of Past-Present Relations in the Experience of Late 20th- and Early 21st-Century Art Music’. He previously studied at Durham University. His research interests focus mainly on aesthetics and contemporary music. Research interests include the aesthetics of contemporary music, musical semiotics, Critical Theory, and psychoanalytic theoretical approaches to the aesthetics and analysis of music.


Thesis Abstract: An Aesthetics of Past-Present Relations in the Experience of Late 20th- and Early 21st-Century Art Music

Focusing on a selection of musical works from within three genres – symphony, string quartet, and the piano repertoire – I argue that the experience of music from the late 20th- and early 21st-centuries must be understood in terms of its mediation by the continued presence of the past, not simply through reference to past musical formal materials, but (more importantly) in the inscription of philosophical-experiential issues into these materials. Following this logic, I explore a discursive strategy based around philosophical tensions central to the aesthetics of post-Enlightenment musical experience – in particular, the dialectics of nature and culture, and mind and body. This allows me to closely interweave strands of musicological and philosophical thought, exploring and developing the latter as they have been taken into, exhibited, and played with in a range of contemporary modernistic musics; in works that draw attention to their historical situatedness (including but not limited to works by Wolfgang Rihm, Valentin Silvestrov, Alfred Schnittke, Thomas Adès, and Helmut Lachenmann). In doing so, I outline the need to go beyond Theodor Adorno’s dialectic of "handed-down musical material", yet also foster an understanding of musical experience situated between past and present without recourse to explicitly postmodern quotation or ‘intertextuality’, something I implicitly critique. This range of musics leads me to draw together seemingly disparate methodological approaches in coming to understand contemporary music’s relationship with the past, including musical semiotics, Critical Theory, embodied phenomenology, and psychoanalytic theory.

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