transcendentalist discourse in Stuart Saunders Smith’s The Starving Month




Stuart Saunders Smith, Transcendentalism, non-teleology, contemporary music, solo vibraphone


In 1836, inspired by the writings of the German philosopher Imannuel Kant and disillusioned with
Unitarianism, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others founded the Transcendentalist Club in Concord, MA. The
Transcendentalists defended Kant’s notion that knowledge was innate and believed that all lives emanated divinity, being bonded through a kind of universal soul. The writings of the Transcendentalists arguably helped shape the New England consciousness. Although composer Stuart Saunders Smith was born more than one hundred years after Transcendentalism’s heyday, as a New Englander, his life has been immersed in a culture that inherited values that trace back to this movement. This essay explores one of the movement’s principal features: the avoidance of teleology (i.e. goal-oriented thinking). Non-teleology is reflected in his music through his recent tendency of writing evening-length pieces, his frequent references to New England imagery, his disregard of form, his use of repetitions, his use of non-sequiturs, and his incursions of modality. The Starving Month for solo vibraphone, analyzed in the final section of this essay, presents all aforementioned characteristics.


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Author Biography

José Augusto Duarte Lacerda, Federal University of Mato Grosso, Brazil

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.




How to Cite

Lacerda, José Augusto Duarte. 2018. “Non-Teleology: Transcendentalist Discourse in Stuart Saunders Smith’s The Starving Month”. Per Musi, no. 38 (May).




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