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Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Nolan, Catherine


Composers can manipulate a basic musical idea in theoretically infinite ways. This concept of manipulating musical material was a central compositional philosophy of Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951). As Schoenberg states, “whatever happens in a piece of music is nothing but the endless reshaping of a basic shape” (Schoenberg, [1935] 1975). It is the variety of ways in which these basic ideas, commonly termed motives, are manipulated that contributes to a work’s unique identity. According to Schoenberg, these varied basic shapes work dialogically to unify a musical piece. But how are these basic shapes varied?

Utilizing ordered intervals of pitch and duration, we may examine the structural properties of motivic segments which develop throughout a work. Exploring an analytical model tracking developmental transformations of melodic musical motives (shapes), this dissertation defines a robust group of intervallic transformations, equipping the analyst with a toolkit of transformational mechanisms. Applications of set-theory and other mathematically-based methodologies to Schoenberg’s post-1908 works often account for structural and motivic process. However, this is not the case for Schoenberg’s early works (1898 – 1908), where scholars typically examine form and harmony. But, as Carl Dahlhaus posits, Schoenberg thought motivically, and only detailed analyses of intervals demonstrate how motives relate to one another (Dahlhaus, 1987). Tracking such processes in Schoenberg’s early works, we come closer to understanding how new forms are created and their interrelations¬––how developed musical ideas emerge and are woven together to create coherence.

Defining a suite of transformational devices, this dissertation examines the treatment of varied motivic forms within two instrumental early works by Schoenberg, Pelleas und Melisande op. 5 (1903) and String Quartet no. 2, op. 10 (1908). The analyses reveal developmental paths via networks which connect musical statements and quantify how one object moves into the next. The results demonstrate specific transformational moves which account for the manipulation of a motivic object, thereby creating subsequent forms. Such investigations permit larger connections and qualified observations to be made within the work of Schoenberg and all composers manipulating motivic forms. The resultant work engages Schoenberg’s technique of musical development and investigates his motivic metamorphoses.

Summary for Lay Audience

A motive is an idea which recurs within a piece of music, often forming the primary identity of the work; for example, the melodic line you may hum, the rhythmic hook you tap. By varying and developing these properties, composers often re-define or re-work the ideas to create different forms. These differences create variety and interest. Tracking the relationships between similar—yet different—motivic objects (pitches, rhythms, etc.), we can begin to discern how composers develop the motivic ideas within a work.

A composer of interest for tracking such processes is Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951). Though motivic objects in his post-1908 compositions are well-examined thanks to the application of mathematical set-theory, we do not have a similar understanding of motivic relations within his early compositions (1898 – 1908). Examination of these compositions, however, is integral to understanding Schoenberg’s compositional evolution. This dissertation develops and applies a new model to track the transformation of motives from statement to statement, allowing convergences and divergences to be identified in a manner not previously encountered. By ascribing defined transformational mechanisms which develop an object A into and object AI, relationships between musical objects can be better revealed and modelled. In previous approaches, analysts often use pitches and rhythms to compare statements. This project takes the intervallic measures between such items as the objects of study. Inspecting intervals reveals more about the quantitative structure within space, moving pitches, and rhythms to a background level.

This study utilizes two case studies, Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande op. 5 (1903) and String Quartet no. 2, op. 10 (1908). As a programmatic work (that is, having an intended narrative) Pelleas und Melisande allows one to track the motivic development as it relates to character development. Schoenberg’s transitional String Quartet no. 2, op. 10 on the other hand, permits the model to demonstrate how his compositional style evolved into more abstract relations. Exploring motivic objects, their similarities, divergences, and transformations lies at the heart of this project. This dissertation engages Schoenberg’s technique of musical development as related to his early compositional practice and investigates his motivic metamorphoses.

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