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Touching Maurice: A Body-based Reading of Ravel's Ondine

Smith, Max Hylton (2013) Touching Maurice: A Body-based Reading of Ravel's Ondine. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Even in the most self-conscious scholarship, to cite Ravel’s pudeur is to run the risk of re-presenting a one dimensional type, or erecting an all-too-familiar cardboard cutout of the composer’s dandified façade and the musical artifice seen as its product. Although recent scholarship (e.g., that of Lloyd Whitesell and Michael Puri) has advanced discussions of Ravel’s queerness beyond the nervous speculation of twentieth-century biographers, our ability to give shape to his person remains today limited by traditional assumptions of where to locate subjectivity and of what counts as legitimate subjective knowledge. Instead of raiding the archives with new vigor, or avoiding the issue of subjectivity altogether, I propose a different solution: to reframe the so-called problem in order that “knowing” Ravel becomes far less complicated than decoding musical structures or deciphering hidden metaphors. Rather, as I argue, Ravel stands forth for us already, as a physical being, embodied time-and-again through the performance of his special brand of virtuosic pianism.
Extending the contextual work of Mary Louise Roberts and Gurminder Bhogal and the choreographic studies of Daphne Leong, David Korevaar, and especially Elisabeth Le Guin, I connect fin-de-siècle conceptions of gender to the ornamental body logic exemplified in the solo piece Ondine. Ravel’s score not only indexes a certain style of dandified comportment, but it incorporates modern performers within an ongoing story. Grounded by Ondine’s culture-steeped choreography, a pianist cites an historical catalogue of queer gesture, enlisting sources that range from Roman oratory to British chirology, from Ovid to Michelangelo, from Ancient etymology to popular cartoons. I read Ravel’s employment of patriarchal symbols as essential to a hyperbolic, proto-camp aesthetic that challenges musical (as well as a broader cultural) normativity. Operative within Judith Butler’s concept of revision, such a performance carves out subjective space for those to whom the privileged terms of wholeness, sincerity, and substance have been least kind. Though Ondine’s effect on collective bodily ideals lends this study a diachronic breadth beyond the experience of any single person, my own relationship with Ravel through his music betrays itself as the origin of a confessional, even carnal, grammar.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Smith, Max Hyltonsmithmh0@sewanee.eduMHS39
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee MemberOlson, Lesterolson@pitt.eduOLSON
Committee MemberRoot, Deanedlr@pitt.eduDLR
Committee ChairCassaro, James P.cassaro@pitt.eduCASSARO
Date: 24 January 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 7 September 2012
Approval Date: 24 January 2013
Submission Date: 21 November 2012
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 114
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: MA - Master of Arts
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Maurice Ravel, Gaspard de la nuit, Ondine, fin-de-siecle, New Woman, dandy, ornamentality, comportment, body language, gesture, piano, pianism, virtuosity, idiomaticism, carnal musicology, Aubrey Beardsley, decadent, Naomi Schor, particularity, detail, femininity, Judith Butler, gender, queer theory, performance, performativity, phenomenology, vocality, embodiment, sex, epistemology, corporeality, diachronicity, new historicism, Kenneth Burke, language, rhetoric, materiality,
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2013 20:08
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2016 14:39


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