Discovering the Compositional Voice: An Examination of Conceptions of Style, Authenticity, and Originality in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Classical Music (Honors)

Graduation Year


Publication Date

Spring 2020


At the request of the author, this paper is not available for download. Bona fide researchers may consult it by visiting the University Archives in Tate Archives & Special Collections; contact archives@iwu.edu for details.


In the teaching of composition, the term “compositional voice” is often referred to as a goal young composers should strive to attain. However, despite its pervasiveness, the term remains nebulous. Over half of composition students have been told in lessons to “find” or “develop” their voice, with a vast majority receiving no further instruction or clarification as to what this “voice” actually is. Thus, the aspect of their music which they have been instructed to develop remains frustratingly elusive.

Through interviewing high-profile composers active in the field, surveying composers in the early phases of their career, and examining primary bibliographic sources from 20th and 21st-century composers, I examine conceptions of the compositional voice and its role in pedagogy and personal compositional process. This project explores the use of the compositional voice, provides several contextual definitions of the phrase, and offers insight into the value of developing a concrete understanding of one’s compositional voice. Furthermore, the relationship between a composer and their music is contrasted with that between an author and their literary works, as composing and writing are artistic processes that scholars typically conceptualize very differently. This paper argues that, given the variety of definitions and contextual disparities, the compositional voice is a concept better suited to a composer’s understanding of their own music, than as a pedagogical tool.



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