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Writings on Music

Hearing the Sublime: Signification of the Sublime in Solo Piano Literature of the Nineteenth Century




Though many philosophers and music theorists have admitted the signification of the sublime in music as a possibility, the nature and mechanism of that signification has not yet been treated at length with a methodology familiar to musicians or native to music theory. Within this dissertation I have conducted a survey of the philosophy of the sublime as understood by Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797), Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805), and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860), with references to other contemporary philosophers and writers. The broader influence of the sublime in regards to German-speaking regions and certain musical composers was also considered.

I then gathered from the above philosophers’ categories and definitions of the sublime a constellation of objects, qualities, and emotional states associated with the sublime. These functioned as signs or signifiers of the sublime, whose paths of signification were considered or determined with use of semiotics and topic theory, with reference to the work of Danuta Mirka, Raymond Monelle, and Leonard Ratner. Making reference to score examples listed in the list of figures, I implemented these techniques in analyses of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109 and Sonata No. 32 in C, Op. 111 as well as Franz Liszt’s “Mazeppa,” from the Études d’exécution transcendante, “Funerailles” from Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses III, S. 173, and“Marche funèbre, En mémoire de Maximilian I, Empereur du Mexique,” from Années de pèlerinage III, S.163.

[Dissertation Proposal] 
Metamorphosis of the Sublime:


Patterned Significations of the Sublime

 in Nineteenth-Century Piano Works

This proposal was accepted and fulfilled in the dissertation "Hearing the Sublime: Signification of the Sublime in Solo Piano Literature of the Nineteenth Century," published on ProQuest in 2019.

Meaning and Motive

This analysis of the second movement of Bartók's Piano Sonata, Sz. 80 (Sostenuto e pesante) using linear-motivic theory relies on work of theorist Paul Wilson and the insights of pianist Rebecca Penneys, who had studied with renowned Bartók student János Starker.  In this work, horizontal and vertical pitch-class projections assist in illuminating a dome-like large-scale structure, a finding in harmony with the hypothesis that the movement is a night-sky depiction.

Longing and Narrative

Music often evokes a sense of remoteness, removedness, or otherness, either as a state or as a goal for which to long.  This sense is created through various means, including impressions of spatial and temporal distance, both of which can be indexical for abstract or ‘essential’ remoteness.  This critical theory of sehnsucht is informed by work of Susan Stewart, Benedict Taylor, Raymond Monelle, Andrew Davis, Robert Ellis Dye, and others. 

Aesthetics of Musical Origin in the Quattrocento 

An analysis of early Renaissance philosophy of the cosmological and cognitive origins of music and musical composition, this work draws upon the writings and philosophy of Plato, Johannes Tinctoris, Marislio Ficino, and Albrecht Dürer, as well as the work of modern writers such as Stephen Halliwell, Dimitrije Bužarovski, Tamara Albertini, Peter Parshall, Dietrich Bartel, and others.

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