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Millennial Passions: New Music and the Ends of History, 1989-2001


This dissertation examines a group of four musical Passion settings, commissioned by the International Bachakademie Stuttgart to mark the 250th anniversary of J.S. Bach’s death in 2000. The terms of the commission, titled “Passion 2000,” called for each composer to choose one of the canonic Gospels and write a setting in his or her own language. They were Wolfgang Rihm, German; Sofia Gubaidulina, Russian; Osvaldo Golijov, Spanish; and Tan Dun, English.

I consider these four Passions against the backdrop of two historical turning points: the end of the Cold War and the turn of the millennium. I look at the impact of these turns on the production and reception of new music, considering tensions between the rapid globalization of the post-Cold War period and the simultaneous struggles to renegotiate the terms of local or regional identities. Accordingly, I address issues of nationalism and postnationalism, globalization, and multiculturalism, while also situating the Passions within music-historical lineages and networks of influence. While the end of the Cold War put ideas about the “end of history” into wide circulation, the approach of the millennium also carried eschatological implications, as well as hopes for global, historical redemption from the brutalities of the twentieth century.

This dissertation is one of the first studies to consider the end of the Cold War as a turning point for musical culture, and to address the millennial turn in new music. It is divided into two parts: Post-Cold War and Pre-Millennium, each part addressing two of the Passions. This dissertation brings necessary attention to the pluralism of 1990s new music, and offers an alternative interpretation to the widespread understanding of late twentieth century concert music as reflecting primarily a “postmodern” condition. Instead, I argue that the historical grandeur of the Cold War’s end and the millennial turn created a unique set of conditions in which music-historical narratives were questioned and the boundaries of new music redrawn.

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