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Pascal Dusapin’s O Mensch! — An Investigation in Analysis, Translation, and Interpretation


This dissertation offers a thorough investigation of Pascal Dusapin’s song cycle O Mensch! (2009) for baritone and piano. By examining the score’s music and text, I summarize and clarify important musical features within the work, delineate the source of generative harmonic and motivic material, identify normative musical behaviors as well as departures from the normative, and present detailed analysis of several representative songs taken from the larger cycle. I also provide new English translations of the cycle’s source texts, which were selected and assembled by the composer from the writings of poet-philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. These translations were informed and shaped by Dusapin’s musical setting and are intended for use in performance as projected text for an English-speaking audience. While O Mensch! presents itself as a traditional cycle of lieder in its form and construction, it remains a work of theater in spirit. As such, I offer thoughts on the work’s characterization and narrative structure, and describe important visual and dramatic elements from my performance of the work in its American premiere in January of 2019. Dusapin’s music presents considerable challenges of execution and interpretation for the singer and pianist, and through analysis and translation I elucidate the process by which I, as a performer, arrived at my interpretative representation. I also suggest that this process might be used as a model for structuring future investigations into other works of a similar musical and theatrical nature.

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