Of Trees, Animals, Place Names and Music: Gideon Fagan’s Karoo Symphony

  • Winfried Lüdemann


Gideon Fagan’s Karoo Symphony (1976/77) is one of the most important examples of South African programme music to date. Its topic is the ‘intruiging vastness’ and ‘beautiful barrenness’ of the large semi-desert in the centre of the country. However, the composer writes that the work ‘does not set out to “paint musical pictures”’. Taking this remark as its point of departure, the article explores ways of understanding the symphony within the context of current thinking about programme music. Novel ideas about the notions of expression versus representation are introduced. At the same time the article places the work into the relatively new discussion about landscape and music, exploring the questions which a South African example of landscape music introduces to this field of research. A detailed stylistic analysis of the symphony concludes the article and serves to draw together all the preceding arguments.


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eISSN: 0258-509X