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2 - Conflicting Modernities and a Modernity of Conflict in James MacMillan’s The World’s Ransoming

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 August 2020

George Parsons
Affiliation:
London Seminary
Robert Sholl
Affiliation:
Royal Academy of Music, London
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Summary

An analysis of MacMillan’s The World’s Ransoming presents an underlying conflict between modernity and tradition, observed on three levels, and focused to form the chapter’s main issue: how to configure MacMillan’s relationship with modernism, particularly given his characteristic stylistic mixture of modernist and traditional elements. Dominic Wells’s label for MacMillan (‘retrospective modernism’) highlights two questions: do the modernist and traditional co-exist as comfortably as this suggests? Can modernism be ‘retrospective’ so easily? I propose ‘conflicting modernities and a modernity of conflict’ as a better description. ‘Conflicting modernities’ highlights the centrifugal aspects of MacMillan’s style in three ways: the conflict between modernist and traditional elements, categorising them as examples of conflict first, before they are rapprochements with modernity; the inclusion of traditional elements stems from a modernist impulse, evidenced in MacMillan’s essay ‘Music and Modernity’; and the multiplicity of modernist influences in MacMillan’s style. ‘Modernity of conflict’ suggests a conclusion that conflict in MacMillan must be defined overall as modernist, explored through two strands of Adorno: meaning as contradiction; and Adorno’s aim to expose totalitarian tendencies, restrictions, and blindspots. In MacMillan this takes the form of a desire to turn modernity’s critique onto itself, exposing its atheistic elements and nihilistic worldview.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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