Dissertation Index

Author: Bribitzer-Stull, Matthew, P.

Title: Thematic Development and Dramatic Association in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen

Institution: Eastman School of Music

Begun: January 1999

Completed: July 2001


The associative power of music has fascinated musicians throughout history. Among other things, it has prompted considerable interest in associative themes (or Leitmotive). The locus classicus of associative thematic technique is, of course, Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen; as such it has often served as a focus for analysis. The danger of such analysis, however, lies in the lure of oversimplification; unraveling the meanings of associative themes entails coming to grips with a warp and weft as tangled as that woven by the Norns themselves.

The typical approach towards identifying and naming themes has been entity-centered--a one-dimensional mapping between music and meaning. This study widens the scope of these earlier investigations by adopting a transformative view. Such a view allows for the richness of accumulative meaning in which the methods of thematic developments themselves function as a hermeneutic for reflecting upon the drama. Four discrete categories of transformations are defined and illustrated by this thesis. First, Thematic Mutation allows for qualification of the original meaning of a theme when its musical materials have been modified. Second, Thematic Transformation provides for the construction of dramatic relationships between musically-related, but distinct, themes. Third, Contextual Reinterpretation investigates the manner in which thematic association can be affected by context alone. Fourth, Thematic Metamorphosis, embraces a larger view of motive within Wagner's music.

Of these categories, the final one demands the most elaboration. It comprises a study of associative themes, motivic parallelism, and the deep Schenkerian levels in order to claim that thematic association is not solely a foreground phenomenon. In so doing, an investigation is made into the intersection between Schenkerian, Baileyan, and functional views of tonality in Wagner's music dramas. This inquiry into the unique interaction between tonality, drama, and Wagner's motivic method of composition serves as a springboard from which to launch hypotheses

Keywords: Wagner, leitmotif, theme, association, Ring cycle


1.The Beast at the Center of the Labyrinth:
Wagner Analysis and the Associative Theme
1.1. What is an Associative Theme?
1.1.1. Motive, Theme, Phrase, and Melody
1.1.2. Theme and Musical Association
1.2. The Prototype Model
1.2.1. The Associative Theme in
Wagner's Other Operas
1.2.2. A Three-fold View of Thematic Identity
2. Thematic Mutation
2.1. Change of Mode
2.2. Harmonic Corruption
2.3. Thematic Truncation
2.4. Thematic Fragmentation
2.5. Change of Texture
3. Thematic Evolution
4. Contextual Reinterpretation
4.1. Associative Transposition
4.2. Thematic Complexes
4.3. Thematic Irony
5. Thematic Metamorphosis
5.1. The Theoretic Cooperative
5.1.1 Schenker Theory
5.1.2 Bailey's Theories
5.1.3 Function Theory
2.2. Tonality, Theme, and Form: The Musical Triumvirate
5.2.1 Tonality and Theme
5.2.2 Theme and Form
5.2.3 Tonality and Form
2.3. Synthetic Analysis
5.3.1 Previous Approaches
5.3.2 Some Notes on the Graphs
5.3.4 Analytic Observations on Das Rheingold


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