Death of a Composer

January 01, 2006 · Thesis

Extended essay submitted as part of BROWN, N. (2006). Portfolio of essays and compositions. Oxford DPhil Thesis, Manuscript, 2006.


In this essay, I examine ROSA as ‘intermedia’, by which I mean an artwork predicated on the difference between various forms of relation, or ways of communicating. Intermedia art involves the interaction between different media, each of which contests or, at least, complements another. It demands the attention of a plurality of senses and allows manifold forms of relation (media) to vie with each other, from which results our experience of the artwork. Word, music, action, visual design and their interaction always play a significant role in determining the nature of the operatic experience. But the central thesis of this essay is that ROSA takes this aspect of conflict between media as its point of departure. It is, in this sense, extreme opera. Accordingly, I argue that the usual significance of music as opera’s primary function is diminished in ROSA.

I base this argument on an investigation of an unusual collaboration between a composer and an artist-filmmaker, the scope of the latter’s creative work embracing both written word (including scripts written for the screen and novels) and visual image-making in several media (including film, painting and sculpture-installation). Indeed, the fact that Peter Greenaway did not provide anything that resembled a libretto for Louis Andriessen to ‘set’ to music had, I contend, a significant effect on the nature of the opera, particularly the Overture. For as much as opera is and has always been an interdisciplinary art, it is also, traditionally, one that reserves for music the place of greatest ontological significance; the libretto (and librettist) is generally subservient to musical design. ROSA, however, comprises several elements, each equally in service of a larger project: a new theatre of totality, to which Greenaway has referred with the phrase ‘mega-cinema’.