Prolongation in the choral music of Benjamin Britten

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Title: Prolongation in the choral music of Benjamin Britten
Author: Forrest, David Lamar
Abstract: While many theorists have applied Schenker’s theory of prolongation to post -tonal music , such studies have met with fierce criticism . Much of the debate over post -tonal prolongation has focused on the non -triadic music of Schoenberg , Stravinsky , Berg , Webern , Bartók and others . Less has been said about triadic post -tonal music . Because triadic post -tonal music borrows techniques from both tonal and post -tonal traditions , it fits comfortably into neither category . Based on the current state of research , it is not entirely clear where triadic post -tonal music fits into the debate over prolongation . Britten’s triadic post -tonal music presents special challenges for prolongational analysis . On the one hand , the surface of Britten’s music is predominantly triadic . This makes prolongational analysis tempting . However , Britten’s music also features many hallmarks of post -tonality including non -functional harmony and free alterations of diatonic and non -diatonic scalar material . In addition , horizontal motion , both at the surface level and at deeper levels , is often governed by symmetrical divisions of pitch space . These post -tonal aspects contribute to a sense of tonal ambiguity that is a hallmark of Britten’s style . This dissertation contributes two observations about prolongational studies of Britten’s music . First , an acceptance of the prolongational potential of symmetrical interval cycles is essential to discovering Britten’s structural levels . Second , while prolongational analysis reveals underlying counterpoint in music from a wide range of styles , with Britten , prolongational analysis reveals a frequent lack of middleground counterpoint . Rather than two independent parts , all parts are dependent on the structurally superior melody . This realization invites a comparison between Britten’s music and Medieval organum . As with organum , it is often most profitable to look first at Britten’s melody and consider all other voices , including the bass , as subordinate parallel harmonizations of the melody . Chapter 1 of this dissertation will explore the theoretical concerns surrounding prolongation in post -tonal music and specific issues pertaining to prolongational approaches to Britten’s music . Chapters 2 -4 include analyses of a capella choral pieces . This specific genre allows for an application of the current thesis within a unified texture . In Chapter 2 , the top voice in Rosa Mystica is controlled by a background minor -third cycle . Chapter 3 shows how , in O Deus , Ego Amo Te , middleground minor -third and whole -tone cycles prolong a background minor -third cycle . Chapter 4 provides an analysis of the A section of Hymn to St . Cecilia where major -third cycles govern middleground prolongation of the initial tonic area . The War Requiem represents an amalgamation of each of these techniques in a comparatively rich texture . Chapter 5 explores the most representative passages of the War Requiem and concludes by applying the current thesis to one of the most texturally dense passages in the piece .
URI: http : / /hdl .handle .net /2346 /18813
Date: 2009-05


Prolongation in the choral music of Benjamin Britten. Doctoral dissertation, Texas Tech University. Available electronically from http : / /hdl .handle .net /2346 /18813 .

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