Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Motif and Closure in Twentieth-Century Music: Bartók, Britten and Fauré
by Eng, Sher Ling Clare, Ph.D., Yale University, 2012, 261; 3525192
Abstract (Summary)

By the end of the nineteenth century, Classical cadences had become reified elements whose expressive capability had weakened. They also acquired semantic qualities that they lacked when they were in currency, such as nostalgia and epigonism. Consequently, composers who desired expressive endings, and who wanted to avoid those qualities, were compelled to seek alternative technical means to communicate closure. My dissertation investigates how Bartók, Britten and Fauré—three twentieth-century composers of distinct musical styles—responded to this challenge. Adopting Leonard Meyer's communication model of music, I posit that closure proceeds by convention. I propose that its conventions are divisible into three types (corpus-, composer- and work-specific), and that every judgment of closure is a negotiation between different, and different types of, conventions. I supplement work already done in identifying corpus-level conventions of closure in twentieth-century music by identifying those that are composer-specific, focusing on how Bartók, Britten and Fauré use a common means (motives) variously to create work-specific closure. Bartók recollects motives at their original pitch classes. He presents harmonic restatements of melodic motives, brings back motivic progressions, and creates what I term retrospective collages. Britten transforms the motives that he recollects. He weaves long modal melodies from short and previously disparate motives, reinterprets open-ended motives as concluding gestures, and uses motivic references to forge intertextual relationships in song cycles. Fauré in his late songs incorporates motives into cadences. Some cadences embed motives in various voices, others have similar outer-voice motion, and yet others interact with the poem's text and/or narrative structure. For each composer, I show that the closural conventions gleaned from their music relate to corpus-level ones from earlier historical style periods. I also explore the possibility that the same motivic process might have different significance for closure in the music of different composers, discussing this topic in relation to partial (incomplete) restatements of motives in the music of Bartók and Britten. By taking into account features of a composer's typical ending, I argue that we can arrive at more informed and nuanced interpretations of particular endings.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Cohn, Richard L.
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 73/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Music, Communication, Aesthetics
Keywords: Bartok, Bela, Britten, Benjamin, Cadence, Communication, Conventions of ending, Faure, Gabriel, Intertextuality, Meyer, Leonard, Music analysis
Publication Number: 3525192
ISBN: 978-1-267-57475-6
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