Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jeff Nichols

Committee Members

Bruce Saylor

Scott Burnham

Anne Stone

Subject Categories

Aesthetics | Musicology | Music Theory


Elliott Carter, Theodor W. Adorno, modernist aesthetics, historical materialism, temporality in music, critical social theory


This dissertation is an attempt to lay the groundwork for an Adornian aesthetics of Elliott Carter’s music. The first chapter suggests that Theodor W. Adorno’s negative dialectics is the most appropriate paradigm for understanding the material antagonisms that characterize Carter’s music over a quasi-Hegelian “unity of opposites” as suggested in the Carter scholarship. Chapter Two demonstrates this through an Adornian reading of key aspects of the first movement of Carter’s 1948 Sonata for Cello and Piano, the watershed work for Carter’s mature style. The third chapter addresses the issue of musical time in Carter from a philosophical perspective; it discusses the philosophical thought referenced in Carter’s 1976 essay “Music and the Time Screen” and offers an Adornian critique in an effort to reframe the “matter of time” in Carter’s music on a materialist basis. Chapter Four offers a very close reading of the first page of Gra (1993) for solo clarinet in order to demonstrate how Adorno’s notion of conceptual non-identity can be applied to the analysis of a work from Carter’s later period. The final chapter briefly considers an historical framing of Carter’s periodization and suggests possible socio-historical interpretive avenues to pursue in a fuller treatment of Carter’s aesthetics.


This essay and the composition, "Rima," together constitute the author's dissertation but are otherwise unrelated.