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Eleanor's current PhD research is an interdisciplinary project that studies composer processes through data analysis and original composition. It explores the connection between words and harmony in music. The project examines multiple settings of five sacred texts that follow a Marian narrative. It considers whether music has an emotional grammar by comparing the harmonic and textural choices in works within Western culture from Gregorian Chant to today. The analysed texts will then be set for the portfolio, investigating how the meaning of words can be communicated through these choices. This research seeks new methods of creative practice that are historically informed, which can create meaningful and enhanced emotional experiences for listeners and performers. Although there has been interest in word painting and the link between words and harmony, much of the previous research has focused on the overall theme or mood of a text. This research intends to be more specific as it will concentrate on word-level analyses. It will look at the role of individual words as well as overarching themes. This combined approach has the opportunity for quantitative as well as qualitative research into this area.


The narrative focuses on the relationship between Jesus and his mother, Mary, through the following texts: Magnificat, O Magnum Mysterium, Stabat Mater, Regina Caeli, Assumpta est Maria. Each of these depict an important event in Mary’s and Jesus’ lives; from the news that God has chosen Mary to bear his son, through the story of Jesus’ birth, crucifixion, and resurrection. Between ten and 15 compositions have been selected for each text from a larger corpus of works. The corpus contains up to 55 settings of each of the texts, which have been composed over the past 700 years. The library continues to grow as Eleanor discovers more settings of each work. The pieces chosen to be analysed at a word level employ only SATB voices, where possible, and use the same text as the Gregorian Chant. Using quantitative methods to analyse data, all words in each setting are classified into the following groups: semantic theme; interval from first to second note and direction; melodic shape; note span; harmonic function; duration; notable rhythmic quality; frequency of occurrence; syllabic/melismatic; voice part; texture. Any themes or trends that emerge are collated into a ‘framework’ of approximately ten items per text, and these are used as guidelines to inform the original compositions for the portfolio. These items are not intended to be restrictive but provide a historical ‘blueprint’ to use as stimuli for each work, which connects these new settings to those that came before.


As of January 2024, a complete cycle of the analysis process has been completed for all five of the texts and the compositions have been completed for all but the Stabat Mater. This is currently in progress. The accompanying written work is a short literature review of significant Harmony elements, the interaction between Music and Language, and Music Psychology and Emotion; these help to provide a background to the intertwining subjects of music, psychology, and linguistics that form the basis of this study.

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