Joe Cadagin is a doctoral candidate in musicology at Stanford, where his research focuses on opera after 1960 and the works of Hungarian composer György Ligeti. He is an avid harpsichordist and a music critic whose reviews and features appear regularly in Opera News, San Francisco Classical Voice, and Fanfare. In 2018, he was awarded a Geballe Dissertation Prize Fellowship from the Stanford Humanities Center.
My dissertation examines the influence of Lewis Carroll on the music of Hungarian composer György Ligeti (1923-2006), widely regarded as one of the leading musical figures of the late-20th century. I locate Alice as a biographical and stylistic node in Ligeti’s so-called late period of the 1980s onward, when he began to artistically reengage with the music and literature of his youth. Drawing on the work of Svetlana Boym, I analyze Ligeti’s settings of Carroll verses in the six Nonsense Madrigals (1988-93) as an expression of reflective nostalgia for his pre-emigration childhood. I also argue that Alice opened up an alternative to musical modernism and postmodernism that Ligeti sought, allowing him to reconcile compositional experimentation with techniques and aesthetic categories that had been “off limits” to the post-war avant-garde. In particular, I shed light on Ligeti’s association between Carroll and popular music, piecing together his manuscript sketches for an unfinished Alice musical. Finally, I situate Ligeti’s Wonderland-inspired works within a recent phenomenon that I dub “Carrollian composition”—a body of Alice settings from the last decades in which composers such as David Del Tredici and Ligeti’s student Unsuk Chin translate Carroll’s playful literary techniques into “musical nonsense.”