Macquarie University
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Song cycle as life cycle: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra and the persistence of memory

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posted on 2022-03-28, 09:14 authored by Paul M. Leventhal
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a prolific composer who gained reputation from the 1920s as a young writer of modern Italian music. Following implementation of Italy's antisemitic racial laws in 1939, Castelnuovo-Tedesco emigrat d to America. There, he became recognised within the Hollywood film-music industry and known as a major composer for the guitar, an instrument he did not play. Throughout his career Castelnuovo-Tedesco placed special emphasis on composing themes inspired by his Florentine background, by his Jewish roots, and by composing art song using great literary works. Connecting the visual to the aural, he was sometimes referred to as an ' impressionistic ' composer due to the highly visual atmospheres he depicted in his music, he utilised elements of ordered and clear Italian neoclassicism , emotional and melodic French neoromanticism, geometric German chromaticism, colourful chordal extensions, and dissonance in his music. This thesis takes as its focal point the last of his compositions that used culturally Jewish texts for its lyric and was written for guitar and voice. One of the great Jewish singer-poets of the Islamic period in Spain was Moses Ibn Ezra (c. 1055 - c.113 8), who was exiled from Granada. Castelnuovo-Tedesco used an English rendition of Ibn Ezra's secular poetry and in 1966 selected nineteen songs which became Opus 207, The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra: A Cycle of Songs for Voice and Guitar. Themes that emerge in this sometimes dark song cycle are the pain of exile, love and friendship, morality, and mortality. Two lines of inquiry will be formed in this thesis. One line of inquiry focusses on the composition itself, to understand its musical and poetic significance. In doing so, it will arrive at some conclusions as to why Castelnuovo-Tedesco chose this poetic material, and in what respects it is a unique composition. The second major line of inquiry is contextualising the Divan as representative of a cultural continuum connecting medieval poet to the modern composer. Underpinning historical and musicological elements, use will be made of writings by philosophers, psychologists, cultural scientists, and historians to construct a theoretical framework highlighting the association that exiled Jewish diaspora populations maintained between their Jewishness and aesthetics, and highlighting the differentiation between commonality and connectivity in the Jewish historical experience. The goal of this research is to ascertain the socio-historical and cultural conditions that led Castelnuovo-Tedesco to the Divan and suggest some implications it has on the study of identity. The the oretical approach is cross-disciplinary and amplifies the conceptual frames of cultural identity, concepts of diaspora, and the transference of memory.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Rationale, research questions, analytical approaches, and research methodologies -- Chapter 2. Literature review -- Chapter 3. Theoretical framework: diaspora, identity, and memory -- Chapter 4. The 'Golden Age' of Spanish Jewry -- Chapter 5. Moses Ibn Ezra: a product of his age --Chapter 6. Towards conflict: the racial laws and their consequences -- Chapter 7. Biographical notes on the life and works of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco -- Chapter 8. The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra and its musical, historical, and social contexts -- Chapter 9. Reading the Divan across the centuries


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 264-274

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Media, Music, Communication, and Cultural Studies

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Andrew Alter

Additional Supervisor 1

Keith. Sarah


Copyright Paul M. Leventhal 2018. Copyright disclaimer:




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