Perspectivism in the Passions of Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977)

Doctoral Dissertation


Although still relatively young, Ēriks Ešenvalds has risen to increasing international prominence by writing widely appealing choral music. His choral compositions demonstrate an eclectic blend of styles and textual sources, a palpable sense of atmosphere, and a strong religious orientation. In particular, his two Passion settings, Passion and Resurrection (2005) and the St. Luke Passion (2010), demonstrate the kind of stylistic eclecticism associated with postmodern compositional aesthetics. At the same time, the Passions proclaim an evangelical message to the listener. How does the objectivity of the Christian euangelion correspond to the intrinsic subjectivity of postmodern compositional methods? This thesis explores the nature of this tension by interpreting Ešenvalds’ Passions as ‘perspectival’ works, which tell the passion story through the eyes of particular characters: specifically, Mary Magdalene and the Prodigal Son. The thesis examines the narrative structure of each Passion, using narrative theory to explain Ešenvalds’ process of characterization. It also applies David Harvey’s theory of ‘time space compression’ to explain the nature of the Passions’ temporal unfolding. From a musical perspective, the thesis investigates Ešenvalds’ eclecticism as a function of characterization, and contextualizes his approach to temporal unfolding as a ‘movement-in-stasis’ model. By combining eclecticism with a larger structural scaffolding, stasis with movement, and micro-narratives with the larger passion narrative, Ešenvalds constructs uniquely perspectival Passions. These works immerse the audience in the passion story, allowing listeners to experience Christ’s passion through the eyes of another, yet they also create contemplative space in which to internalize and apply the larger evangelical meaning. Rather than finding an incompatibility between Ešenvalds’ eclecticism and his evangelical purpose, this thesis concludes that these perspectival narratives resemble a robust and traditionally Christian approach to epistemology. The objective realities of the story may be experienced subjectively, without overt appeals to human rationality, and without coercion.


Attribute NameValues
Author Justin Appel
Contributor Carmen-Helena Téllez, Committee Member
Contributor Margot Fassler, Committee Member
Contributor Christopher Chowrimootoo, Research Director
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Sacred Music
Degree Name DMA
Defense Date
  • 2017-07-03

Submission Date 2017-07-17
  • Music, Choral Conducting, Musical Analysis, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Passion and Resurrection, St. Luke Passion, Latvian Choral Tradition, Baltic Choral Music, Passion, Perspectivism, Postmodernism, Eclecticism, Evangelical Theology, Narrative, Characterization, Time-Space Compression

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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