Date of Degree
MA (Master of Arts)
Marian Wilson Kimber
Post-minimalist American composer Julius Eastman's residency at Northwestern University in 1980 provides a rare opportunity to mitigate, if not eliminate, the problems involved in defining his compositional style. Eastman occupies a complex and unlikely position in late twentieth-century music as an openly gay, African-American composer of serious art music who both a member of the Creative Associates at SUNY Buffalo as well as participated in the diverse musical culture of Downtown New York. Eastman's surviving scores are notated in a fragmentary and idiosyncratic fashion and the composer's outrageous personality left few people with whom he worked closely or on a regular basis. However, scores of three of Eastman's works survive. Crazy Nigger, Evil Nigger, and Gay Guerilla were performed on January 16, 1980, as the culmination of Eastman's residency at Northwestern. Eastman's use of inflammatory was influenced by the political timeframe of their composition, particularly black cultural narratives and the state of gay rights conflict in the era between Stonewall and the AIDS crisis. Drawing upon newspaper reports, early scholarship on Eastman's biography, and interviews with concert participants, this thesis documents the rehearsal process and the controversy surrounding the titles of the works. For Members Only, the black student organization at Northwestern, protested advertisements of the concert in the midst of their own conflict with the student government.
A viable analytical framework for Eastman's works draws from the techniques of earlier minimalist theorists, including John Roeder's adaptation of set theory. Crazy Nigger, the earliest and longest of the three works, provides to be the least complex example of Eastman's "vertically additive process." Whereas composer Philip Glass extends an original melodic kernel by adding notes horizontally, Eastman adds notes vertically to create increasingly dense textures. Evil Nigger's use of the process is more complicated, introducing additional elements such as ostinati and de-emphasizing the kind of sectional form found in Crazy Nigger. In Gay Guerilla, the last of the three works to be composed, Eastman totally obscured any salient perception of form by eliding several simultaneous occurrences of the vertically additive process and introducing a quotation of the Lutheran chorale "Ein feste Burg." With these three analysis, a more generalized concept of Eastman's compositional style thus consists of his vertically additive process, the introduction of modernist harmony into minimalist technique, the use of hendecachords (11-note sets), a gradual dissolution with the sectional form dominant in concert-length minimalist works, and a move away from post-modernity that Eastman termed "organic music."
Copyright 2011 Andrew E. Hanson-Dvoracek