Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“I've a voice, I've a voice”: Determining Stephen Sondheim's compositional style through a music-theoretic analysis of his theater works
by Purin, Peter Charles Landis, Ph.D., University of Kansas, 2011, 238; 3490507
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation offers a music-theoretic analysis of the musical style of Stephen Sondheim, as surveyed through his fourteen musicals that have appeared on Broadway. The analysis begins with dramatic concerns, where musico-dramatic intensity analysis graphs show the relationship between music and drama, and how one may affect the interpretation of events in the other. These graphs also show hierarchical recursion in both music and drama. The focus of the analysis then switches to how Sondheim uses traditional accompaniment schemata, but also stretches the schemata into patterns that are distinctly of his voice; particularly in the use of the waltz in four, developing accompaniment, and emerging meter. Sondheim shows his harmonic voice in how he juxtaposes treble and bass lines, creating diagonal dissonances. He also uses dramatically striking chords called effect harmonies in most of his musicals. He obtains middleground harmonic cohesion through the use of chromaticism and pedal points. Background cohesion comes by remaining in a single key, despite the monotonal excursions he takes that bring the characters and the music to places perceived as far away from where they started. The final approach of the analysis examines Sondheim's melodies, which are shown to share a number of properties with classical and popular Western melodic writing. However, he also defies melodic trends of step inertia and step declination. His use of motivic stops and melodic cadences often contains large intervals or outlines of large intervals not common in other composers. Prosody and drama affect his melodic writing, in that he writes short, motivic units that are often repeated for a dramatic effect, sometimes disrupting meter and hypermeter. He also writes melodies that are shared between actors in scored dialogue. These musical elements all play a part in the identification of Sondheim's style.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Murphy, Scott
Commitee: Everett, William, Laird, Paul, McGee, Deron, Staniunas, John
School: University of Kansas
Department: Music
School Location: United States -- Kansas
Source: DAI-A 73/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Music, Theater
Keywords: Compositional style, Music theory, Musical theater, Sondheim, Stephen
Publication Number: 3490507
ISBN: 978-1-267-11368-9
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