Existentialism and Modern Music




Green, Megan

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Existentialism and Modern Music comments on both philosophy and music by drawing parallels between the two. Existentialism helps explain the trends in musical development, shows the direct correlation of composer life-views and their compositions, and motivates listeners to find the why behind every musical decision. Alternatively, modern music shows that existentialism’s commentary on the human condition extends beyond general morality and identity into all facets of life. I begin by comparing Friedrich Nietzsche’s Three Metamorphoses and George Rochberg’s compositional evolution through his string quartets. Then, I discuss Soren Kierkegaard’s Dizziness of Freedom with respect to Milton Babbitt’s finite total serialism and John Cage’s infinite aleatoricism. I also demonstrate how Kierkegaard’s Transcendental Faith can be found in a variety of composers. Finally, I outline Steve Reich’s musical development through Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of Freedom as a comment on Authenticity. Throughout, I argue the unique insights of interdisciplinary study in the hopes of starting a larger conversation between the two disciplines.