Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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From Coltrane to Magma and beyond: Interpreting musical meaning through composition

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posted on 2021-12-07, 01:14 authored by Bradley, Reuben

This thesis is an exploration of the work A Love Supreme composed by John Coltrane, his influence on the band Magma, and their composition, Zëss. By applying Clifford Geertz’s interpretive framework to the work of Coltrane and Magma, I suggest that the spiritual concerns of these composers was the primary motivating factor in the creation of their music.  I argue for a definition of Coltrane’s musical work, particularly A Love Supreme, as ‘arranged spontaneous spiritual music’, acknowledging that Coltrane’s spirituality was a vehicle for the music and, simultaneously, the music was a vehicle for his spirituality.   I also discuss the composer of Zëss, Christian Vander, who has a deeply cemented love of John Coltrane’s music and spiritual concepts, both of which coexist in the music of his band, Magma.   My composition synthesises and expands on the work of both Coltrane and Magma. Descend, based on Dante’s Inferno, contains my own interpreted meanings of A Love Supreme and Zëss. The story of Inferno is similar to that of Coltrane’s and Vander’s commitment in their spiritual lives, and in this project I make my own interpretations to access my own spirituality through the act of composition.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Musical Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

950101 Music

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Psathas, John; Wilson, Dave