Dissertation Index

Author: Forrest, David L.

Title: Prolongation in the Choral Music of Benjamin Britten

Institution: Texas Tech University

Begun: June 2007

Completed: May 2009


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 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. 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.

Chapter 1 explores the theoretical concerns surrounding prolongation in post-tonal music in general and Britten’s music in particular. Chapters 2-4 include analyses of early a capella choral pieces: Rosa Mystica and O Deus, Ego Amo Te from A.M.D.G. and Hymn to St. Cecilia. Chapter 5 explores texturally dense passages from the War Requiem.

Keywords: prolongation, interval cycles, Britten, pattern completion, A.M.D.G., Hymn to St. Cecilia, War Requiem, organum, post-tonal, triad


I. Introduction
Prolongation in Triadic Post-Tonal Music: Theoretical Issues
Prolongation in Britten: A Review of Previous Schenkerian Analyses of Britten
Interval Cycles and Pattern Completion
Twentieth-Century Organum

II. Rosa Mystica
Background of Ad majorem Dei gloriam

III. O Deus Ego Amo Te

IV. Hymn to St. Cecilia

V. War Requiem
Background of the War Requiem
Current Research on the War Requiem
Surface-level allusions to organum
Drone-style organum
Drone composed out into ostinato
Extreme textural density



     Return to dissertations