Nothing Is as It Appears: Anthony Braxton’s Trillium JPublic Deposited
Anthony Braxton’s Trillium J, part of an ambitious planned “complex” of 36 one-act operas, premiered in 2014. Very little writing—anecdotal, journalistic, nor scholarly—exists on these works, so this research provides a critical introduction, contextualizing the operas within Braxton’s oeuvre and discussing the works’ fundamental musical materials and organization. Examples from Trillium J illuminate general characteristics of the composer’s approach to operatic form. This document analyzes the composer’s approach to narrative time and place, characterization, and the relationship between the libretti and Braxton’s 1985 philosophical treatise.1 This research also offers a reading of how Braxton’s operas may be understood as “ritual music,” the designation he gives them. This analysis draws on religious studies and anthropological theories of ritualization,2 as well as studies of innovations in modernist theater. 3 I suggest that Trillium’s potential for ritualization exists, in part, because of the nuanced way the Western operatic, the American experimental, and improvised music traditions intersect and inform Braxton’s work. Also important are the frustrated attempts at community formation in the operas’ stories and the significance of self-realization for the participants that motivates Braxton’s compositional approach. Ultimately, this document proposes that the collaborative practices of realizing these music-theater works is central to these processes of ritualization. Therefore, in addition to studies of the libretto and score, this research draws upon the author’s first-hand experience of performing in the opera’s orchestra and interviews with the composer, significant collaborators, and experienced performers.
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