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Durham e-Theses
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Music in Conflict: Contemporary Concepts of Classical Music in the Musico-Literary Novel

HARLING-LEE, KATIE,OSHA (2022) Music in Conflict: Contemporary Concepts of Classical Music in the Musico-Literary Novel. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 23 September 2025.


This thesis introduces the ‘musico-literary novel’, which thematically engages with musicological and music philosophy concerns throughout its narrative. The term identifies a distinct cultural phenomenon and emphasises the value to be found in analysing thematic literary uses of music. The specific novels discussed are part of a sub-trend for musico-literary novels which use Western classical music (understood in the vernacular) in a political or armed conflict setting, a trend which reveals certain popular ideas about the power of music, but also places music in a unique, extreme context. As pressure produces refinement, the pressure of armed conflict on music pushes understandings of music’s importance, significance, and limits to the test.

Six novels are covered across four chapters, each focused on a key concept of Western classical music: the productive paradox of absolute music as both something and nothing in the political regimes of Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Thien) and The Noise of Time (Barnes); the transgressive transcendence of classical music in the terrorist contexts of Bel Canto (Patchett) and Orfeo (Powers); classical music as an aid to conflict resolution and transformation in the siege of The Cellist of Sarajevo (Galloway); and the silencing of music as akin to the experience of post-conflict trauma in Fugitive Pieces (Michaels). Offering new literary analysis which demonstrates the value of thematic uses (rather than formal imitation) of music in literature, this thesis reveals how musico-literary novels engage complexly with the musical experience. It also demonstrates how literary analysis can both contribute to cross-disciplinary discussions and be augmented by an interdisciplinary methodology through the use of musicology, conflict, and trauma studies to discuss Western classical music when represented in the armed conflict context of the contemporary novel.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:musico-literary; contemporary novels; classical music; conflict; Madeleine Thien; Richard Powers; Ann Patchett; Anne Michaels; Steven Galloway; Julian Barnes; word and music studies; interdisciplinary; fiction;
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:27 Sep 2022 11:49

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