The poetry of being Present! An analysis of Transcendental thought in the work of Stuart Saunders Smith




Stuart Saunders Smith, Transcendentalism, contemporary music, percussion


New England composer Stuart Saunders Smith (1948) is immersed in a milieu that echoes the American Transcendentalist movement. Transcendentalist figures, like Emerson and Thoreau, discussed notions also emphasized by Smith’s: autonomy, intuition, experience, self-reliance, self-actualization, pacifism, and a claim that each person is part of a single universal spirit—Oneness.

This article focuses on how such notions reflect in Smith’s compositional process and how two particular aspects, pacifism and Oneness, reflect in the music that emerges from this process. In Smith’s compositional process, experience, “filtered” through intuition, is more important than pre-compositional systems. Therefore, his work is seen as antithetical to formalism. Oneness is achieved by leveling the roles of composer, performer, and audience. This procedure appears particularly in his trans-media systems, mobile compositions, and co-existence pieces. Pacifism emerges in his use of intricate rhythms. These stances suggest Smith’s music as part of a lineage of thought that traces back to the Transcendentalists: the idea of facing tradition critically while upholding free agency as the primary source of artistic creation.


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Biografia do Autor

José Augusto Duarte Lacerda, Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso

As an advocate of new music, José Augusto Duarte Lacerda, also known as Zeca Lacerda, has worked alongside composers such as Steve Reich, John L. Adams, George Lewis, Elliott Sharp, Jeff Herriott, James Romig, Gabriela Ortiz, Christian Wolff, Bob Becker, Lewis Nielson, and Stuart Saunders Smith, having premiered works by the latter seven. In Brazil, he has performed with the country’s premier orchestras, such as the Brazilian and the Petrobras symphony orchestras.

Zeca currently teaches at Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso, where he also directs the university’s percussion ensemble [re]Percute UFMT. He has released an album of solo vibraphone music, through Soundset Recordings, and has published an article on Percussive Notes. Awards received include Percussive Arts Society and Zildjian scholarships. He earned a Doctoral degree in Contemporary Music from Bowling Green State University, a Master’s in Music from the University of Miami, and a Bachelor’s in Music from Universidade Federal de Santa Maria.


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Como Citar

DUARTE LACERDA, J. A. The poetry of being Present! An analysis of Transcendental thought in the work of Stuart Saunders Smith. Música Hodie, Goiânia, v. 19, 2019. DOI: 10.5216/mh.v19.52703. Disponível em: Acesso em: 18 maio. 2024.