Dissertation Index

Author: Balter, Tamara

Title: A Theory of Irony in Music: Types of Irony in the String Quartets of Haydn and Beethoven.

Institution: Indiana University, Bloomington (Music Theory)

Begun: January 2006

Completed: November 2009


My dissertation proposes a semantic theory of irony in music, with application to the string quartets of Haydn and Beethoven. Through several case studies I demonstrate how instrumental music can express higher-order meanings, concentrating on three main types of irony. The theory presents the structure we find in most types of irony, engaging in a meta-theoretical inquiry grounded in current analytic philosophy. The analytical chapters focus on exemplifications of Socratic irony, parody, and Romantic irony. Since music is not a language, verbal irony is extremely rare. However, the theory demonstrates that the use of words is not essential to irony; situational irony provides an umbrella for musical events that we may interpret as ironic. The application of the theory to analysis goes beyond the mere tracing of the structure and characteristics outlined in the theory and reveals that different types of irony sometimes shade into one another.

Various strategies used to convey irony in the musical narrative of Haydn's Op. 33 are compared to the feigned ignorance and dialectics used by Socrates in the Platonic dialogues. Whereas such dialectics are hard to trace in Beethoven's quartets, Beethoven emulated other Haydnesque strategies for expressing parody and Romantic irony. A comparative study of these types of irony in both Haydn's and Beethoven's quartets demonstrates Haydn's influence on Beethoven. Two of my case studies specifically reveal Beethoven's parody of compositional strategies that were common in Haydn's late string quartet writing. Finally, my discussion of parody elaborates on two musical topics related to parody that have not been extensively explored in the literature- parody of learned style and parody of the musical automaton.

Keywords: Beethoven, Haydn, Irony, Parody, humor, String quartets, Wit, Germany, Austria, philosophy.


tbalter@umail.iu.edu , 972-509-905-541

     Return to dissertations