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Title:Musical perspectives on the Binding of Isaac story in the 20th century: Aharon Harlap and Menachem Zur's Akedat Ytzchak and Steve Reich's The Cave
Author(s):Isaacson, Emily S.
Director of Research:Stoltzfus, Fred
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Megill, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Solya, Andrea; Gee, Erin
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Binding of Isaac
Sacrifice of Isaac
choral music
The Cave
Abstract:Genesis 22 is among the most ideologically evasive stories in the Bible. Abraham is prepared to murder his favorite son to show his devotion to God. We, the audience, are left with questions about the disposition of God, the morals of Abraham, and the nature of faith. This dissertation will examine three compositions from the twentieth century that engage the story of Genesis 22: Aharon Harlap and Menachem Zur’s Akedat Ytzchak (The Sacrifice of Isaac) (1979 and 1989, respectively) and Steve Reich’s The Cave (1993). This project has four aims. First, it explores how Harlap, Zur, and Reich engage the text to center or deconstruct the essential aspects of the narrative. Second, it investigates how these composers use musical and extramusical devices to build a dramatic or theological narrative. Third, it compares and contrasts these works to the Binding of Isaac art of writers, painters, sculptors, and composers before them. Finally, it probes what insights these modern works offer this ancient story. This work is inherently comparative. I compare how Harlap, Zur, and Reich use Genesis 22 as a frame and how their compositions resonate or clash with the story. I rely on primary sources such as scores and libretti, as well as contemporary reviews, published dialogues with the composers, and interviews I took with Harlap and Zur. I also utilize articles on the works of these composers, as well as monographs on the Sacrifice Story in the fields of theology, religious history, art history, cultural studies, literature, and historical politics. I argue that while Harlap, Zur, and Reich have very different compositional styles, they reflect established trends in the artistic and religious tradition of Genesis 22. Harlap explores Abraham, Isaac, and God as if they were real human beings with conflicting emotions and loyalties. Zur’s composition subdues the text and approaches the story as an abstraction. Reich uses the narrative as an object to meditate on the role of religion in the twentieth century. While Harlap, Zur, and Reich’s renderings echo visual, literary, and musical art from the past, their compositional techniques allow for new implications for the story and, in turn, for the meaning of faith.
Issue Date:2015-12-04
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Emily Isaacson
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-03-02
Date Deposited:2015-12

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