Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Fine Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Kevin Holm-Hudson


Water has remained a subject of all kinds of musical works since at least the middle ages. These musical works lack the concrete representational capacity of paintings, photographs, and films, relying instead on more abstract metaphorical constructs to convey water imagery. Current scholarship on water music typically centers on Romantic and Impressionist works and does not examine the process of signification by which musical signs portray water. The principal goal of this study is to determine how musical devices convey specific aspects of bodies of water and how such devices interact and contribute to musical depictions of streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. I find that evocations of motion in the form of waves and flow are especially important to portrayals of water; furthermore, music depicting motion can combine with devices evoking water’s other characteristics to create detailed, multifarious depictions. I give special attention to John Luther Adams’s water compositions, which are notable for their thorough depictions of bodies of water and represent a relatively new phenomenon: the focused musical depiction.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Included in

Music Theory Commons