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Title: Structure, rhetoric, imagery : intersections of literary expression and musical narrative in the vocal works of Beethoven
Author: Pilcher, Matthew Aaron
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2013
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Beethoven’s vocal works are often neglected or overshadowed as a result of his prominent involvement with large-scale instrumental genres such as sonata, symphony, or string quartet. Nevertheless, he sustained throughout his life a significant interest in literature and poetry; his personal library, as well as his letters, Tagebuch, and conversation books all document this by way of numerous direct quotations from—and indirect references to—the literary materials that interested him. The numerous vocal works he produced between 1783 and 1826 are one relevant manifestation of this interest and engagement with words. Beethoven produced a significant body of vocal works, the majority of which have not received the same intensity of analytical treatment as the instrumental works. Specifically, this study examines the relationship between words and music in the solo songs and other vocal works of Beethoven. The points of intersection between literary and musical expression are evaluated within four aspects of text setting: structure, rhythm, meaning, and narrative. Firstly, elements of derivation and deviation are explored to determine the diverse ways that he deliberately constructed musical structures in response to the poetic (and semantic) structures of each source text. Secondly, and by extension, rhythm and metre—and varying degrees of derivation, deviation, and manipulation—are assessed so as to demonstrate how these works illustrate Beethoven’s awareness of the expressive possibilities for adhering to or altering the relationship between poetic and musical metre. Thirdly, various types of musical rhetoric—including Beethoven’s implementation of the conventions for affective tonality, as well as the reliance on both conventional and uniquely-Beethovenian depictive idioms and gestures—illustrate his response to various levels of semantic content. Fourthly, his response to individual (though interrelated) aspects of narrative in his selected texts are evaluated. Drawing concepts from key figures of narrative theory—including Gérard Genette, Roland Barthes, Mieke Bal, and others—this study assesses the narrative content in selected texts as a means by which to gauge Beethoven’s compositional response to aspects of temporality, focalisation, spatiality, and so forth, both individually and in combination. Ultimately, this study demonstrates that—contrary to frequently voiced opinions—Beethoven responded quite closely and deliberately to the expressive implications of his selected texts, while aspects of poetic and musical structure, rhythm, syntax, imagery, and layers of meaning coalesce within complex narrative processes. Beethoven was aware of the inherent musicality of poetic texts and the significance of forging a close compositional relationship between words and music; thus he consistently demonstrated in composing these works his ideology that within vocal works ‘words and music form a unit’.
Supervisor: Cooper, Barry; Tunbridge, Laura Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Beethoven ; Vocal ; Song ; Narrative ; Structure ; Metre ; Meaning