A Portfolio of Original Compositions (Anselm McDonnell)

  • Anselm McDonnell

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This composition portfolio consists of fifteen musical scores and recordings, supplemented by this written commentary. The included works represent my broad interest in different musical mediums: solo instruments, chamber music, vocal ensembles, and electroacoustic groups. The intention of this commentary is to provide an overview of the pieces within the portfolio and, using examples from these, discuss three strands of my compositional language that have developed through the duration of the PhD.

The commentary begins with a detailed overview of the works in the portfolio, categorised by ensemble and presented in chronological order from earliest to most recent. This overview is provided to establish each piece as an independent artistic endeavour, contextualising the later examples that are drawn from them. In the three chapters which discuss my compositional language, the portfolio is used as a pool of examples to highlight strands in my work that are diffuse across my oeuvre, but not necessarily the primary focus in the individual works themselves.1 Occasionally, brief references in the commentary may be made to music which has been excluded from the portfolio for the purpose of brevity, to show how a given trajectory has been further explored in other works.

The three overarching research themes discussed in this commentary are: Harmonic Language, Aleatoric Techniques, and Writing for the Voice. These represent the primary areas of my musical interests and prominent features that unite the portfolio works. Each of these aspects will be contextualised by the research of composers who have informed my own writing, including discussion of how my music relates to historical trends.

Note the following sound files, noted in the appendix of this thesis, are not currently available on Queen's Research Portal owing to copyright issues:
1. Hinneni
7a. Eyewitnesses of His Majesty mvt 1
7b. Eyewitnesses of His Majesty mvt III
7C. Eyewitnesses of His Majesty mvt VI
9. Enturfment
12. Baptisms in Solway Firth &
13. Engines of Babel
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorPiers Hellawell (Supervisor) & Simon Mawhinney (Supervisor)


  • Composition
  • contemporary music
  • aleatory
  • extended vocal techniques

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