Master Thesis about Canto Ostinato by Stacey Litong Low

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At the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Stacey Litong Low wrote a master thesis about Canto Ostinato. She especially analysed seven recordings by Jeroen and Sandra van Veen. Download this interesting essay for free from the Melbourne University Library…   

Canto Ostinato for keyboard instruments (1973-79) is the best-known piece of Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt (1923-2012). The first work of his final compositional period, it advocates indeterminacy in performance, leaving performers to decide on dynamics, articulation, pedalling, instrumentation, and the number of repetitions of most of its 106 sections. Canto Ostinato’s aleatoric nature is investigated in relation to the traditional connotations of a “work,” as highlighted by Lydia Goehr. Georgina Born’s notion of a “provisional” type of work and Peter Elsdon’s classification of a work as the total of its realisations are posited as alternative definitions.

An examination of Canto as a “work” would be incomplete without an analysis of the piece’s relationships to its composer, period of conception, performers, realisations, and audiences, and the relationships and contradictions between these aspects. This thesis investigates Canto in relation to several of its precedents in experimental music, such as improvisational music, minimalism, and indeterminacy. Several of Ten Holt’s stated beliefs are investigated in relation to the score of Canto, such as the spiritual importance he accorded to the concept of tonality; the special interaction between the performers; the idea of each work developing on its own; and the notion of an “ideal performance” of an indeterminate piece.

This thesis also examines the seven duo recordings from 1996 to 2013 of husband-and-wife piano duo Sandra and Jeroen van Veen, two of Ten Holt’s most prolific advocates. The analyses indicate that Ten Holt’s apparent praise for their February 2008 recording was an impetus for the duo in using similar approaches in subsequent recordings. In these recordings, a number of sections of Canto Ostinato are highly structured via part omissions, specific amounts of repetition, additional repeats, and the employment of the additive process.

A wide range of topics are discussed, such as notion of authorial control versus performer preferences, a more collaborative composer-performer relationship, and the issues surrounding the Van Veens’ semi-determinate realisations of Canto Ostinato, such as audience perception and practical considerations in live performances. This thesis uncovers the complex associations between composers, performers, and other aspects in this consideration of Canto Ostinato as a “work.”

Click here to download the thesis

Canto Ostinato at the Donemus Webshop