Religion and Spirituality in Late 20th Century Music: Arvo PÌ_rt, Jonathan Harvey, and John Coltrane
Gehring, Steven Wayne
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In this dissertation I focus on significant trends in music and spirituality in the latter half of the twentieth century as a legacy of dramatic transformations in religion and society. During this era, especially in the 1960s, a growing disaffection with traditional religion - as well as with traditional society in general - led many individuals to explore spirituality, either as a replacement for or as a byproduct of religion. I examine these trends in spirituality as a way of bringing to light the different ways composers and musicians have used their music to communicate a sense of spirituality. My dissertation consists of three case studies of musicians who lived during or emerged from the pivotal era of the 1960s and who, following a conversion experience, created music that can be seen as responding to the particular tensions of religion, spirituality, and the secular world that became apparent in the last decades of the 20th century. The music of these three composers evoke religious and spiritual meaning outside of a traditionally religious context. In my first case study, I examine two works by Estonian born composer Arvo PÌ_rt: Te Deum (1984) and Fratres (1977). Following his conversion to Russian Orthodox Christianity, PÌ_rt created music highly evocative of both medieval and contemporary minimalist music traditions. My second case study examines Ritual Melodies for Quadraphonic Tape (1986-1990) by British composer Jonathan Harvey. Though raised in the Church of England, Harvey largely turned away from Christianity and towards the beliefs and philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism, which are reflected in the musical elements drawn from Asian religious traditions that he uses in Ritual Melodies. My final case study examines A Love Supreme (1964) by American jazz musician, John Coltrane. Following his 1957 conversion, Coltrane became increasingly focused on creating music both evocative of his changing spiritual beliefs and reflective of his constant search inward for truth. In returning to his religious roots and outward towards an eclectic mix of different Western and Eastern religious traditions, Coltrane represents a universalized spirituality.