This is a scholarly working group for individuals interested in the life and works of composer Julia Perry. The goals of this group are to assist with the exchange of manuscripts, published works, and scholarship on Perry, as well as providing support for other members including offering feedback on projects; assisting with obtaining materials from libraries, archives, and similar institutions; and creating and updating bibliographies, discographies, lists of performances, works lists, and other such reference materials on Perry with information gleaned through individual research.

Analysis of Stabat Mater

This is a living document that I will update as I do more analysis. Comments/edits are welcome and encouraged.

An analysis of Julia Perry’s Stabat Mater using serialist methodology

This paper explores Julia Perry’s use of serialist techniques in her 1951 composition Stabat Mater. The analysis of her work through the lens of set theory demonstrates Perry’s interest in and use of serialism even before she began her studies with the renowned Italian serialist Luigi Dallapiccola later that year. By performing a serial analysis of Stabat Mater, this paper positions Perry within the American serialist tradition and is the first extended set theory analysis of her work.

The piece opens with a rising eight-note segment in the cello and bass: <1 2 7 6 e t 4 3>. This segment is immediately imitated in the viola, transposed up 3 semitones. In measure 6 the segment is presented in violin II, transposed up 2 semitones (relative to the original segment). Then, in m. 10, violin I presents the segment, transposed down 7 semitones.

Parts I, III, and VII all begin similarly, with a clear statement of segment. Part of IX (mm. 258–269) also contains clear statements of the segment toward the end of the movement.

Parts II and VI begin with rising stepwise four-note motive.

The formal design of the piece is largely communicated by texture.


Think more about true symmetry of some of the motives (like the one on IV)

P: 1 2 7 6 e t 4 3 / C# D G F# B A# E D#
I: 1 0 7 8 3 4 t e / C# C G G# D# E A# B
R: 3 4 t e 6 7 2 1 / D# E A# B F# G D C#
RI: e t 4 3 8 7 0 1 / B A# E D# G# G C C#

No key signature.
mm. 1–14: Section A
presentation of 8-note motive (row?) that follows pattern half step followed by 4th/5th:
m. 1 cellos/basses: 1 2 7 6 e t 4 3
m. 2 viola: 4 6 7 9 e 0 6 2
m. 6 vln II: 3 4 9 8 1 0 5 4
m. 10 vln I: 8 9 2 1 6 5 e t 3 4

mm. 15–26: Section B
m. 17 vocalist: 7 2 4 5 9 t 0
m. 21 cellos: 1 2 7 6 e t 4 3 ←exact repeat of m. 1
m. 22 viola: 4 6 7 9 e 2 0 ←slightly varied repeat of m. 2
m. 25 cellos: t 8 9 7 4 5 3

mm. 27–35: Section C
G-sharp drone for first five measures
mm. 36–43 (end): Section D
last four measures are transition to II, accompaniment uses E G Bflat Dsharp <4 7 t 3>, same pitch collection used in final two systems of piece

No key signature.
mm. 44–56: Section A
distorted lullaby motive in m. 44, transformed in vocal entrance, vocal entrance repeated exactly in violin in mm. 53–54; quartal/quintal accompaniment
mm. 57–69: Section B

No key signature.
(similar to I. in that line-focused section A is followed by sparse simultaneous quartal/quintal accompaniment in section B)
mm. 70–79: Section A
opening theme in all instruments at beginning and again in cello two measures later

mm. 80–98: Section B
quartal/quintal accompaniment
32nd note rhythmic motive found at end (and in transition in IV), similar to opening of VIII

No key signature.
mm. 99–100: Transition from III
vln I line descending then ascending fourths
mm. 101¬–118: Section A
repeating six-note pattern (related to sextuplets in VIII and IX?): 7 2 9 t 3 8
mm. 119–130: Section B (or just a coda?)
chords, first four are m3-P4: G-Bflat-Csharp-Fsharp / B-D-G-C / Csharp-E-A-D / Dsharp-Fsharp-B-E /
E-D-A-D-G / E-D-G-E

No key signature.
mm. 131–140: Section A
Staggered hymn style (call and response?); first motive seems very similar to opening theme in its juxtaposition of seconds and fourths
mm. 141–156: Section B

Two flats in key signature.
Ground bass, rising g minor four-note scale, starting in cellos/bass, moving to viola in m. 168; imitation of ground bass in other instruments

Two sharps in key signature.
mm. 180–198: Section A
Opening theme repeated several times, played by all instruments at beginning, then sung by vocalist starting in m. 183 (is this the first time vocalist sings the row?), cellos in m. 190 repeated four times, m. 191 violas repeat it twice

mm. 199–210: Section B
six-note ascending motive: Bflat C D E Fsharp Gsharp
lullaby theme heard at end? It’s the same four notes in the same register as the second measure of II

No key signature.
mm. 211–225: Section A
quartal quasi drone on viola E-A
repeating motive Bflat-E-A, 32nd note rhythmic motive similar to III
new motive repeated downward through orch, starting on E, B, Fsharp
mm. 225–234: Section B
C drone in basses
final measure introduces sextuplet motive that begins IX.

No key signature.
mm. 235–246: Section A
repeating sextuplet motive: 4 6 8 t 0 2 up, 0 t 8 6 4 2 down → whole tone scale
two-note motives also moving in whole tones: t 8 4 2, e 9

mm. 247–257: Section B

mm. 258–270: Section C
Opening theme stated in cellos, then viola, vln II, vln I, viola, cellos/basses
Ostinato mm. 260–267 (Fsharp Csharp)

mm. 271–288: Section D
Asharp-Csharp-Fsharp in accomp mm. 271–277
Csharp-Gsharp-Fsharp-B-E / B-Fsharp-E-A-D / A-E-D-G-C mm. 278–280
last two measures transition to X

No key signature.
mm. 289–294: Section A
mm. 295–306: Section B
C-sharp drone
mm. 307–317: Coda
E G Bflat Dsharp (see pitch collection at end of I)

Discussion (4)

  1. Meg, this is really helpful. I’m working on a conference paper on Perry’s The Selfish Giant, and there a lot of it is sprechgesang in the vocal parts and either a drone or a repeated figure in the orchestra. In one section I’m grappling with, she uses a (026) figure with interpolations and then reduces it to just an (02) set. What’s the accepted way to analyze this serial minimalism? Are there articles or other things I need to read to base my analysis on?

    • Meg Wilhoite says:

      I’m glad my very rough notes are helpful, Kendra! I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the non-Second-Viennese-School-focused analytical serialist literature; I decided to start by searching for analyses of Dallapiccola’s work. Jacqueline Ravensburgen wrote an interesting analytical thesis on Dallapiccola for the University of Ottawa in 2012 (I have a PDF if you want it) that I thought might yield some interesting inroads into this kind of analysis, and of course her lit review would be a good place to start also. All of that is a long way of saying that there’s probably some good lit out there and unfortunately I just don’t know about it yet. I had to shelve this analysis for now to focus on other projects, but I do want to get more acquainted with how people have analyzed freer and/or more minimalist serial compositions. Also, very happy and interested to read your conference paper, whether before or after you present it!

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