Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Catherine Nolan


Galina Ustvolskaya was overshadowed throughout her lifetime, both personally and professionally, by her compositional colleague, Dmitri Shostakovich. This dissertation seeks to establish Ustvolskaya’s separate identity, making her idiosyncratic compositional design the forefront of the research. A contextual transformational approach suits her compositional design built upon the element of repetition. Employing Joseph Straus’s analytical approach to the music of Ruth Crawford Seeger, this dissertation will explore a selection of Ustvolskaya’s work, demonstrating the evolution of her compositional design.

The melodic foundations of Ustvolskaya’s compositional approach are based upon compact motives established at the onset of each work. The motives are then subjected to a process of development rooted in the concept of varied or developed repetition. Contextual transformations are subjected upon the motives, which are defined by their directed interval-class segments in the horizontal domain. Relationships, derivations, and associations will be revealed through the transformations, demonstrating a cohesive design.

As will be demonstrated throughout the analyses, Ustvolskaya’s treatment of repetition is subjected to a process of evolution that exemplifies continual simplification over time of her compositional process. The earlier works display a less explicit use of repetition. As her style evolves, the element of repetition maintains its grasp, while at the same time infiltrating the shallower layers of the work, thus becoming more audible to the listener. As her style evolves further, the element of repetition subsumes the composition as a whole, exhibiting a fully evolved, mature design that has been stripped of superfluous elements.

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