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Music, Ritual and Musical Ritual in Michael Tippett's first two operas.

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paper

  • Edward Venn
Publication date26/03/2009
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventResearch Seminar - Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama
Duration: 26/03/2009 → …


ConferenceResearch Seminar
CityRoyal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama
Period26/03/09 → …


Central to the operas of the British composer Michael Tippett (1905-98) are a wide range of ritual and mythical behaviours and models. In his first opera, “The Midsummer Marriage” (1946-55), Jungian psychology is combined with rites (and depictions of rites) from classical and Indian sources to create an intensely personal theatrical situation. For Tippett, this is all part of the process of evoking the 'marvellous', which 'will allow the opera composer to present the collective spiritual experience more nakedly and immediately - the music helping to suspend the critical and analytical judgement, without which happening no experience of the numinous can be immediate at all' (Tippett 1995: 204). In his second opera, “King Priam” (1958-61), Tippett develops a musical language that is in certain respects analogous to Stravinskian musical ritual (Cross 1998: 63-8) yet is pressed into the service of a conventional narrative structure that eschews ritual circularity. Given Stephen Greenblatt's famous claim that the theatre 'evacuates everything that it represents' (1988: 127), and Jerzy Grotowski's contention that 'degenerated ritual is a spectacle' (1988: 36), to what extent can Tippett's endeavours be said to provide a 'collective spiritual experience' analogous to ritual? In what ways might music connect and enrich the assortment of ritual practices, divorced from their original contexts, and infuse them with renewed meaning? This paper will question critically ritualistic elements in Tippett's music and libretto through the examination of the dynamic interaction between his eclectic inter-ritualistic borrowings and their musical presentation in “The Midsummer Marriage” and “King Priam”. Doing so will enable one to understand better operatic treatment of ritual, not just in this specific case, but across the twentieth century as a whole.

Bibliographic note

Revised and expanded version of http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/34694