Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Sylvia R. Kahan

Subject Categories



Edgard Varèse, graven image, ordered succession, Ralph Shapey, recontextualization, Stefan Wolpe


This dissertation creates a narrative for the stylistic development of the American composer, Ralph Shapey, during the first half of his career. Shapey's music represents a fusion of Schoenbergian metamorphic process and Varèsian stasis, methods for the creation of musical continuity that are usually considered incompatible. I show how Shapey formulated his compositional techniques, influenced by his teacher, Stefan Wolpe, and his friend, Edgard Varèse.

Shapey's interest in the music of Schoenberg was mediated through the prism of Wolpe's musical ideas. Wolpe used unordered pitch-class sets to present the aggregate in his music, and avoided Schoenberg's neo-classic and neo-baroque forms in favor of more fluid continuity procedures. Shapey developed an interest in the use of block forms through his study of the music of Béla Bartók, Olivier Messiaen and Edgard Varèse. He began to employ techniques derived from Varèse's music during the mid-1950s, including the use of static constructions and the exploitation of a wide musical space. At the same time, he continued to use the procedures of pitch organization that he had learned from Wolpe. During the early 1960s, Shapey synthesized the opposing musical tendencies represented by Wolpe's dynamic narrative processes and Varèse's use of stasis.

Chapter 1 outlines Wolpe's compositional pedagogy, and shows how Shapey applied his teacher's concepts in his student works. Chapter 2 explores Shapey's vacillation during the early 1950s between traditional methods of motivic development and the creation of sound blocks. Chapter 3 addresses Shapey's abandonment of the concept of metamorphic process in favor of stasis during the years 1954-58. Chapter 4 covers Shapey's systematization of his new compositional techniques in the years 1959-61. Chapters 5 and 6 examine Shapey's synthesis of metamorphic process and stasis during the early 1960s. Chapter 7 presents a detailed analysis of movement IV of Shapey's Incantations for Soprano and Ten Instruments (1961), illustrating Shapey's use of the technique of varied repetition as a continuity device. The dissertation concludes with a comparison of Shapey's compositional pedagogy and that of Stefan Wolpe, showing similarities in their discussion of pitch, rhythm, musical space and counterpoint.

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