The use of irrational time signatures in Thomas Adès’ works
AffiliationMelbourne Conservatorium of Music
Document TypeHonours thesis
Access StatusOnly available to University of Melbourne staff and students, login required
© 2019 Justeen Wheatley
A host of institutions, the Western art world, and the musicological community at large engage in a continual discourse to explore, test, and invent new concrete avenues to record and accurately communicate artistic expression. Although the language of music has undergone considerable developments in melodic and harmonic theories and practices over the past few centuries, mainstream musicological dialogue has yet to focus on rhythmic and (particularly) metrical advancement. Few composers have tested the bounds of musical metre, and fewer still have done so with as much acclaim as British composer Thomas Adès. Known as a prolific triple-threat (composer, pianist, and conductor), Adès has continued to make art music accessible while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of “New Music”. One compositional technique that has set his oeuvre apart is his recurrent application of irrational time signatures. Despite their frequent use of irrational time signatures, Adès’ works remain popular with performers and audiences alike. It is therefore hypothesised that the convention is used primarily to ease Adès’ communication of complex rhythmic ideas to the performer, to facilitate the process of learning and performing his works without hindering audible intelligibility. Through a thorough investigation and examination of Adès’ compositional output to date, it is the aim of this dissertation to ascertain some of the purposes of irrational time signatures. It is hoped that this will aid future composers’ apprehension and enrich performers’ interpretation of the convention.
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