Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. John Cuciurean


Mendelssohn’s music is consistently measured by a Beethovenian yardstick and, more often than not, his music is found to be unfit to live up to this aesthetic model. The purpose of this dissertation is to ask: is the model of Beethoven’s music the only appropriate choice for guiding analysis and research of Mendelssohn’s compositional style? I argue that the answer is an emphatic no. This dissertation attempts to open other avenues of research into Mendelssohn’s compositional style by training the focus directly on Mendelssohn’s works themselves. Using an inductive approach, this dissertation summarizes the results of the analysis of a cross-section of works in sonata form that span Mendelssohn’s compositional career.

This dissertation attempts to demonstrate that Mendelssohn was following a decidedly different path than Beethoven. First, I examine Mendelssohn’s musical education and upbringing, drawing strong connections to the Classical style. Next, I demonstrate the need for a flexible analytical model of sonata form in order to capture the unique blend of Classical and Romantic aspects within Mendelssohn’s music in sonata form and argue that Hepokoski and Darcy’s theory of sonata form is the best choice to analyze these works. The conclusions drawn from an examination of twenty-four first movements in sonata form from Mendelssohn’s oeuvre is then presented, suggesting that there are four main aspects that define Mendelssohn’s sonata-form style. Aesthetic issues of the early-nineteenth century are explored with a focus on the concept of lyricism and its effect on sonata form as a whole and Mendelssohn’s approach in particular. Finally, four analytical case studies are presented which span Mendelssohn’s compositional career. Two piano sonatas, the Sonata in G Minor, Op. 105 (1821) and the Sonata in E Major, Op. 6 (1825) are presented as a demonstration of Mendelssohn’s early conception of sonata form; the Cello Sonata No. 1 in Bb Major, Op. 45 (1838) and the Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 66 (1845) are presented in order to demonstrate Mendelssohn’s continued use and transformation of sonata form over the course of his compositional career.

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