The Organ Works of Petr Eben (1929-2007): A Hermeneutical Approach

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Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University
ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The Czech composer Petr Eben (1929-2007) was a devoted Catholic who found one of his greatest sources of inspiration in his faith. Eben admitted in many interviews that his religious belief played an important role in his artistic endeavours, and that his compositions were for him a sort of “message to the people” (as quoted in Anderson 1996: 50). In this study, three major works by Petr Eben are analysed, selected as examples of music conveying religious and spiritual meaning outside of a formal religious context. This research explores how Eben’s belief shaped most aspects of his creativity, from the selection and development of compositional techniques to the simple gravitation towards distinct religious themes. It further investigates how religious meaning is coded in his music, and how it is conveyed to the listener. I examine how Eben composed using elements drawn from Catholic and other Christian religious traditions, evoking a sense of the sacred through sound. These musical elements, while not universal in the strict sense, are broad enough to allow the crossing over denominational lines, creating a larger sense of religion or belief. The texts used as introduction or illustration to his works, the titles of the movements within works and representative vocabulary sometimes imply specific theological perspectives, whose combination then allows for broader interpretations of the music. The three works, Faust (1979-80), Job (1987) and The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (2003) will be approached in context of Eben’s musical background and biographical as well as socio-political context: the time spent as a child in the concentration camp of Buchenwald, his country’s religious oppression under the Socialist government and its latter dismantlement through the Velvet Revolution of 1989. It will explore the concept of freedom versus oppression, or in Eben’s own words “Good against Evil” as an overarching theme throughout his oeuvre, constituting a veritable musico-philosophical legacy of his own life. From the various approaches that can be taken in this discourse, a hermeneutical approach was chosen as the ideal one. Close attention will be given to the texts on which these works are based, the relationship between them and Eben’s music, as well as an identification and analysis of his use of pre-existing musical material and general programmatic elements in these compositions. Attempting to understand the meaning behind his use of musical quotation as well as that encapsulated in his own musical language, and the further realisation of a synthesis between these two levels of musical creation, will contribute towards discovering the composer’s artistic goals. All elements will be viewed through different hermeneutical “windows”, with the main emphasis being on Eben’s recurring engagement with the subjects of Good versus Evil, religious contemplation, or the critique of the flaws of Humanity. The findings will be drawn together and confronted with performances of the music in order to explore the congruence and/or tension between the various levels of the investigation. By integrating systematic research and the spontaneous elements of performance, a mutually complementary and enriching view of the topic under investigation is expected to arise. This discussion will attempt to demonstrate how meaning is established through the drawing of a relationship between textual and extra-textual elements, as well as between the former and the aspects of performance therein implied.
Thesis (MMus)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.
Czech composer, Petr Eben, compositions, religious music, organ music